- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From a breakfast cafe in Denver to the Little Italy that is Boston’s North End, one ingredient is a staple in every major city and the thousands of diners, bakeries and home kitchens in between: the egg.

The omnipresent oval comes over easy and poached; baked inside pastry crusts and rolled into yellow noodles; mixed into mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings; used in other goods like shampoos and vaccines.

Eating - or using - one is nearly unavoidable in a country that produced more than 90 billion eggs in 2009. That’s exactly why thousands of consumers, chefs, store owners and home cooks are scrambling after two Iowa farms recalled more than a half-billion eggs linked to as many as 1,300 cases of salmonella poisoning.

“Eggs are a thickener in cream pies, a binder if you’re making meatloaf, an emulsifier in salad dressing,” said Joe Berry, a professor at Oklahoma State University. “They just do lots of things that people probably don’t even think about.”

As the probe into what caused the outbreak continues, restaurants and grocery stores are trying to put customers at ease by advertising that their eggs weren’t recalled, home cooks and diners are overcooking eggs to eliminate runny yolks and slimy whites and a cottage industry has emerged offering eggs raised on smaller, family farms instead of by large corporations.

When Peggy Bevan, owner of the Egg Shell of Cherry Creek in Denver, heard on the nightly news that the egg recall had expanded to Colorado, it was time to clear the decks.

Though her ingredients are generally organic, natural and local, she wasn’t taking any risks. The next day, she and two others woke at 4 a.m. to get rid of all their eggs, guessing they trashed nine dozen in all.

“We dumped everything we had prepped, from pancakes to French toast batters. We just got rid of everything. We didn’t take a chance,” she said.

The Egg Shell received a case of 30 dozen new eggs about 5 a.m., an hour before the restaurant opened. “Then we just remade everything. It wasn’t a pleasant morning,” Ms. Bevan said.

Still, precautions are abundant. The restaurant uses about 5,000 to 7,000 eggs a month. In the kitchen, employees wear gloves. The person who cooks the eggs doesn’t crack them. Instead, one person cracks them all and transfers them in a cup to the cook, cutting down on potential contamination.

Not far from where the recall originated, a popular Des Moines, Iowa, breakfast spot was doing solid business Tuesday.

Drake Diner manager Shannon Vilmain said more customers have asked servers about the brand names of the eggs used and whether they are safe, but she hasn’t noticed a decline in orders for egg-based dishes. The Drake Diner goes through about 120 dozen eggs a week, which they get mostly from a supplier in nearby Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Among the loyal customers was Charles Mettler of Des Moines, who stopped by for eggs Benedict.

“I’m probably more worried about the Hollandaise sauce as far as cholesterol,” he said.

As the recall ballooned, grocery chains across the country checked their lists, yanking bad eggs and posting signs informing customers which cartons were safe to buy.

Story Continues →