About 1 in every 20,000 eggs is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. That may not sound like a lot until you consider that 200 million eggs are consumed daily in the United States; this would make about 1,000 of them tainted, although only a small fraction of these contain a sufficient bacterial load to cause serious symptoms in humans.
It’s long been speculated that the amount of rum and bourbon in a typical concoction is sufficient to kill of enough bacteria to prevent food poisoning, thereby paving the way for splitting hangovers, massive credit-card debt, and the stress of dysfunctional-family gatherings to generate the bulk of physical discomfort during the Holiday season. Recently, microbiologist Vince Fischetti of The Rockefeller University ran some tests in his lab to figure out whether this is true. The results:
The experiment … compared the bacteria found in homemade alcoholic eggnog with those found in store-bought nonalcoholic nog. After culturing samples of both solutions and incubating them for 24 hours at 37 degrees Celsius – body temperature – Fischetti and his colleagues found that while the store-bought product was teeming with a range of bacteria, the homemade version was completely sterile.
“The bacteria we observed in the grocery-store product are likely harmless normal bacteria that are found in all dairy products,” says Fischetti, who is head of the Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology. “In fact, they were probably in the cream and other products we used when we made our eggnog but were killed by the alcohol.”
When the scientists performed the same experiment but added a heavy dose of Salmonella bacteria, the results were inconclusive. “In our 24-hour time frame, the alcohol in the eggnog did not kill all the bacteria, but we used 1,000 times more Salmonella than what you might encounter in a contaminated egg,” Fischetti says.
“In order to authoritatively say that spiked eggnog is either safe or unsafe, we’d have to repeat the experiment under a range of more realistic conditions,” he says. “We’d probably need a grant.”
Below is a video from Science Friday highlighting the experiment.