The Egg and Us

State legislators, prompted by the outcry over the recently enacted Lauren Rudolph food safety law setting minimum cooking temperatures for various foods, have begun to offer alternatives.

Los Angeles Democratic Assemblywoman Diane Watson has introduced a bill that would set up courses in safe food handling for restaurant workers that would be required for any restaurant manager.

Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) is drafting a bill with a narrower focus. She wants, as she puts it, to make the Golden State safe once again for Caesar salad.

"Where's the danger in a good Caesar salad?" she asks. "Forcing fine restaurants to serve precooked, reconstituted egg product in gourmet salads is enough to bring diners out into the streets."

The Lauren Beth Rudolph Food Safety Act of 1997, named after the 6-year-old who died in 1992 after eating an E. coli-tainted hamburger, specifies that any dishes containing eggs must be cooked to at least 160 degrees to eliminate the risk of salmonella.

Caesar salads, mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce and some other dishes are made from eggs that are not cooked to that temperature. In order to be able to serve the traditional versions, the state says restaurants must either prepare the dish in front of the customer or have the customer ask specifically for the dish to be prepared in the traditional manner.

"The language in that law that purports to allow someone to consent in having a raw egg in their food preparation is cumbersomely constructed," says a spokesman for Migden. "We want to clarify the language so restaurants can say, 'This is how we do it; is that OK with you?' "

Though similar controversies have developed around the prescribed cooking temperatures for ground meat, pork and fish, Migden's bill will not address those concerns.

"We're frankly on a more narrow plane," says Migden's spokesman. "We're just trying to tweak it so you don't have to demand to have an egg cooked the way you want it."

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