Can I Accidentally Poison People with Ice Cream?
June 19, 2007 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Can I accidentally poison people with ice cream?

I'm making ice cream for the first time, and I'm using a recipe that calls for a cooked custard base (egg yolks, sugar, half-and-half).

The directions for how long to cook it were a bit vague for a newbie, and I'm pretty sure I did it correctly, but now it turns out that I was supposed to test it to see if it was thick enough to coat a metal spoon, and I did not do that. I can recall that it coated the bottom of the metal pan when I poured it out ... not sure if that counts.

Basically, I'm paranoid. The ice cream made with this maybe-undercooked custard is in the mixer right now. It should be done in 30 minutes. What are the chances that I'm going to make my whole family violently ill if we eat this for dessert tonight?
posted by mccxxiii to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hehe. That's what sampling in advance is for! Have some ice cream!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:11 PM on June 19, 2007

Oh, my bad. I just realized that it's almost already dinnertime where you are. I'm sure it'll be fine though! I'd say eat it.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:13 PM on June 19, 2007

According to the American Egg Board there is only one outbreak for every one billion eggs consumed. You and your guests should be fine. Also, the directions regarding coating metal spoons is almost certainly for texture and a successful ice cream experience, not safety. If you cooked 'em at all you oughtta be fine!
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:16 PM on June 19, 2007

Sorry, one Salmonella outbreak. If you're worried about other things (like the dreaded Plague Egg) you're on your own.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:16 PM on June 19, 2007

I think the whole deal with the custard-coating-the-back-of-a-spoon thing is more to check the viscosity and consistency of your custard mixture than to check whether it's cooked. If you're getting any egg-dairy-sugar mixture up to the temperature where it boils long enough to thicken, you should be completely fine. It may end up resulting in ice cream that won't be quite the texture you're looking for, but I don't think it will poison anyone.
posted by malthas at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2007

D'oh - should have previewed. wemayfreeze had it first.
posted by malthas at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2007

If it set, you're fine. Even if it didn't, you're fine. You have a better chance of catching salmonella from visiting a pet store with lizards than you do eating entirely raw eggs. It's mostly hype.
posted by kcm at 2:20 PM on June 19, 2007

Best answer: mccxxiii, how long did you cook the custard for? I have taken to making ice cream like there's no tomorrow lately, so I think I can help. Here's some hard and fast numbers (taken from David Lebovitz's new book, The Perfect Scoop -- highly recommended!!): Egg custards should be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees F in order to be safe, but this is still well below the recommended custard temperature for consistency and taste: 170-175 degrees. So chances are very good that you made it to 160. Also, try to think back: was the custard steaming at all? The steam (just before boiling) is also a good sign that it was cooked enough. For future reference, the spoon trick works pretty well (if you don't have a instant-read thermometer.) I may be a little lax about these things, but I think that it will be fine
posted by picklebird at 2:22 PM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, better to undercook your custard a little than to overcook - overcooking it gives the ice cream a weird texture. And, you'll be fine. Enjoy!
posted by rtha at 2:23 PM on June 19, 2007

I can honestly say I've always ate a fair quantity of cookie dough before it was even baked as I'm sure most kids have. I have never gotten food poisoning from this. Granted this doesn't mean it is 100% safe to eat mixtures with raw eggs but it has to be very close.
posted by JJ86 at 2:24 PM on June 19, 2007

FYI, for malthas, the egg custard should not boil. In fact it should not go above 185 degrees or else you'll just have scrambled eggs.
posted by picklebird at 2:26 PM on June 19, 2007

Even if you didnt cook it at all, how would that poison people?

I make eggnog every christmas using raw egg yolks. There is no cooking process. I've served it to over a hundred people and nobody has gotten sick.
posted by vacapinta at 2:34 PM on June 19, 2007

For the future, if you're inclined to worry about such things, buy pasteurized eggs. They're becoming much more common.
posted by phearlez at 2:46 PM on June 19, 2007

I've made many batches of fresh ice cream and mousses using uncooked eggs.

I'm still alive and haven't, to my knowledge, made anyone sick with my cooking.

I believe the salmonella hype surrounding raw eggs to be just that: hype.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:51 PM on June 19, 2007

No worries. Enjoy the ice cream.
posted by Roger Dodger at 3:06 PM on June 19, 2007

My common sense type perspective:

While cooking an egg will destroy any salmonella, most eggs do not have salmonella (or at least enough to cause illness) in the first place.

It sounds like your eggs have been cooked about the 160 °F minimum, so there's no problems, but I'd only worry about raw eggs for young children, pregnant woman, elderly adults, and those who are immuno-compromised. For healthy adults, the amount you need to consume is before you get sick is higher and the symptoms themselves will be much more mild.

You may find this USDA fact sheet helpful.
posted by sourlime at 3:46 PM on June 19, 2007

My mothers grandfather used to chug down a raw egg every morning. He lived to a very old age.
Back then the egg producing practices weren't as good as today; I think you're fine.

I grew up on a farm and so we had fresh eggs. The thing is that we never washed them before using (okay, maybe if they had a lot of crap on them) and ate soft-boiled all the time.
posted by jammnrose at 3:56 PM on June 19, 2007

And if you want another opinion, here's a link to an NPR stream where Alton Brown was asked this very question, after sharing a recipe for eggnog on-air that featured raw eggs. AB's part starts about 1:20 in, the whole thing is only a couple minutes long.
posted by pupdog at 5:34 PM on June 19, 2007

I've eaten rice with raw egg plenty of times, and haven't been ill. Pretty remarkable considering I can be quite ill to random foodstuff fairly often. You'll be all right.
posted by divabat at 6:40 PM on June 19, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, so much excellent info ... thanks to all! I will definitely look for the Perfect Scoop book.

I have now eaten the ice cream -- two bowls, actually, because it freakin' ROCKED -- and so far I'm still on my feet and healthy enough to do the dishes.

I suspect that was all just me being paranoid. Wouldn't be the first time.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:02 PM on June 19, 2007

Typhoid Mary apparently killed 33 people with her signature peach ice cream.

So, ummm... make sure that you don't have typhoid.... n' stuff.....
posted by Afroblanco at 7:17 PM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Few people will know and more will argue, but salmonella comes from the OUTSIDES of eggs, not the insides. Dirty hands and dirty, crap and guts covered machines touch commercial eggs.

Eggs are natures perfect food, and people have been eating them a LOT longer than there have been BS marketing campaigns to trick people into believing that Pasteurization of eggs does anything more than kill germs put on the eggs by the handling process.

Those who truly know that art of the mousee, meringue, or custard (or really who just like eggs) will tell you the insane difference between a NON pasteurized egg and a fresh farm egg for all matters of cooking and eating. Pasteurization actually REMOVES the protective coating from the outer layer of the egg (farm eggs are smooth, store eggs are rough) and opens tiny air holes, which is why commercial eggs tend to dry out w/ age. Farm eggs will keep for a LONG time w/o refrigeration.

I mean, come on, think about it...the inside of the egg is a sterile environment.
posted by TomMelee at 7:20 PM on June 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

salmonella is the main worry, but you shouldn't. if you cooked the custard, you should have killed it (if not, the freezing probably did). the "coat the back of the spoon" instruction is more for texture than temperature.

even if you ate raw eggs, the risk for salmonella is pretty low. people do it all the time. not recommended if you're very ill, old, or a baby, but otherwise, the odds for contamination are really very small.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:26 PM on June 19, 2007

The salmonella coming from outside (as well as inside) the egg is the reason it's recommend to crack eggs on a flat surface, not the edge of a bowl. Then you have less chance of pushing bacteria into the contents.

Also, washing the egg thus opening the air vents is the reason we have to keep ours refrigerated after whereas eggs will sit in the open air on the dining room table in a lot of other countries.
posted by kcm at 8:27 PM on June 19, 2007

I was under the impression that the recent increased caution about raw eggs was, in fact, because salmonella is becoming widespread among laying hens—specifically, salmonella infection within the leading to the likelihood of salmonella organisms within the yolk. The white is certainly going to be sterile, because of its magnificent lysozyme content. But is the yolk still safe? Will a chicken farmer please comment?
posted by eritain at 6:57 AM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: You can't be sure. Eat it all yourself, so as not to put other members of your family at risk.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2007

Response by poster: DevilsAdvocate, I like the way you think!!!
posted by mccxxiii at 5:06 PM on June 20, 2007

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