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Raw Egg Consumption

Ewa Nowogorski

In America, parents always tell their children not to eat cookie dough before it is cooked. The raw egg in it may contain a deadly bacteria called salmonella. It has killed thousands of people in the USA because they have eaten raw foods infected with it, but there is no such issue in Japan.

The idea of eating raw eggs has been forever plagued by poor agricultural practices and salmonella outbreaks. Japan itself is not free from salmonella outbreaks, but cases are extremely rare in contrast to America. And the bacteria does not reside inside the egg itself, but rather on the surface of the shell.  In Japan, eggs are specially checked to make sure that they are safe to eat raw. A special machine automatically cleans the eggs, checks them for quality, sorts them for size, and finally packages them and seals the carton.

And that brings me to the next point of raw egg eating in Japan. There are eggs that can be eaten raw, and there are eggs that are designated for eating only after they are cooked. Only the specially cleaned eggs can be eaten raw.

Domestic chickens were introduced to Japan from China through Korea around 2,500 years ago, but eggs were used for medicinal purposes and as sacred offerings rather than as food. Egg consumption was banned periodically from the 14th century, and it only became acceptable to eat eggs in the Edo Period (1603-1867), and during this time it was considered a luxury item. After World War II was when egg consumption increased dramatically. Japan was poor and in ruins, and its health was in crisis. The country needed cheap high protein foods to provide nutrition for its hungry malnourished masses. Eggs were able to provide that. The media pushed hard for consumers to purchase and eat them, and by 1960 it was a household staple.

Today raw eggs are a common breakfast food item and are usually eaten with white rice and some soy sauce. It is considered a very healthy and well-balanced breakfast. An estimated 320 eggs are eaten by the average Japanese person each year. This is higher than the American average of 250 eggs per year. It might sound gross, but you might be surprised if you try some raw egg the next time you are in Japan. There aren’t many opportunities to eat it after all.

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