The holidays are here, and many festivities include serving traditional dishes and drinks. One drink we receive many questions about this time of year is eggnog, a holiday drink featuring eggs, sugar, milk, cream, nutmeg and sometimes, alcohol. Since eggs are a primary ingredient in eggnog, and eggs are often contaminated with the bacterial pathogen Salmonella, there is a risk that your beverage may become contaminated if it isn’t prepared properly.

A Salmonella infection can put a serious damper on your holiday festivities by causing diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps for as long as a week. Adults 65 years and older, children younger than 5, and people with weakened immune systems may experience more severe illnesses that could result in hospitalization. To avoid these issues, it is important to follow these tips when making this festive beverage at home.


It is best to use pasteurized eggs when making eggnog at home. Pasteurized whole shell or liquid egg products can be found in the grocery store and are a recommended substitute for using raw eggs. According to USDA, pasteurized shell eggs are heated in a warm water bath using appropriate time and temperature controls to destroy pathogens in the eggs. These products do not cause any changes to the nutritional content of the eggs and do not have a noticeable effect on flavor. Even if you are using pasteurized eggs, it is still recommended to cook the eggs (see recipe below) for an added layer of safety. Pasteurized egg substitutes or egg whites may also be used, but may result in altered flavor or consistency of the eggnog.

If you are using unpasteurized eggs, you must cook the eggs to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure your beverage is safe. This is best done by heating the milk then slowly pouring the heated milk into the beaten egg mixture while continuously stirring. The milk and egg mixture can then be placed back on the stove and heated up to 160. This will allow the eggs to be brought up to a high temperature to kill harmful bacteria while not resulting in a scrambled egg product. After cooking the egg and milk mixture can be rapidly cooled and other ingredients can be added.


It is a common misconception that addition of alcohol to eggnog will kill any harmful bacteria in the eggnog. The amount of alcohol added to eggnog using traditional recipes is not sufficient to kill bacteria, although it may prevent further growth of bacteria that are already present. Although Salmonella may not grow in the beverage with addition of alcohol, there can still be sufficient bacteria already present to cause disease. Some studies have shown that the addition of 1.5 ounces of 80 proof alcohol per egg and three weeks of aging in the refrigerator may kill the harmful bacteria in the mixture, but this process is not recommended.

Making eggnog

The following recipe adapted from a recipe provided by USDA FSIS will help you make a safe eggnog, since it uses a heating step to ensure that bacterial pathogens are killed.

1 quart of 2 percent milk

6 eggs1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whipping cream, whipped

ground nutmeg


Heat milk in large saucepan until hot (do not boil or scald). While milk is heating, beat together eggs and salt in a large bowl, gradually adding the sugar.

Gradually add the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture while continually stirring.

Transfer the mixture back to the large saucepan and cook on medium-low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk until the mixture thickens and just coats a spoon. The food thermometer should register 160. Stir in vanilla.

Cool quickly by setting the pan in a bowl of ice or cold water and stirring for about 10 minutes.

Optional: Stir in 3-4 oz of bourbon or rum.

Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight.

Pour into a bowl or pitcher. Fold in whipped cream. Then dust with ground nutmeg.

By following these tips, you can ensure your eggnog is safe, and doesn’t result in a disappointing party. Happy holidays!

Smith is an assistant professor and statewide consumer food specialist for Washington State University. She can be reached at If you have a food safety question you would like to see appear in this column, send your question to us at

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