Is eggnog safe for kids?

Is it safe to drink homemade eggnog while pregnant? While nursing? While a preschooler? While a pretend NPR host?

Google those questions and you’ll find plenty of ways to make homemade eggnog safer. You can choose a recipe that includes cooked eggs, although that risks a custardy result. If you’re in possession of an immersion circulator, you can pasteurize your eggs before using them in any of the uncooked nog recipes. If you’re nogging with adults only, you can add booze, which, even if you purposefully add salmonella to the recipe, will be safe for consumption within a few weeks. Just don’t drink too much, else you launch into an embarrassing airing of grievances or even a Grog Mutiny.

You could, of course, just buy the grocery store variety, but before you make this purchase of last resort let me offer you one more alternative: acknowledge that homemade eggnog is already reasonably safe.

If a huge proportion of eggs contained salmonella, you’d expect there to be an uptick of outbreaks during eggnog season, but that isn’t the case. We could conclude that no one is making homemade eggnog (unlikely), that everyone who is making homemade eggnog is cooking the eggs (also unlikely), or that consuming raw eggs doesn’t automatically lead to salmonella contamination.

Even when salmonella infection occurs, it should be concerning but not alarming. The two most recent salmonella outbreaks linked to shell eggs were in June 2018 and November 2016. The 2018 outbreak led to 45 cases. The 2016 outbreak produced 8 cases. Neither outbreak led to any deaths. These are important numbers when considering the safety of any particular egg-producing operation, but are very small numbers when considering our overall rates of egg consumption.

So why the persistent worry about eggnog?

One of the reasons today’s parents are so concerned about salmonella is that, when we were kids, there was good reason to be concerned about salmonella. Between 1985 and 1987 there were sixty-five salmonella outbreaks. Today, owing to regulatory changes, there’s much less cause for alarm, but yet we find ourselves reciting our own parents’ warnings about raw eggs.

Even if we hadn’t lived through those salmonella panics, we might still be wary of raw eggs, because we have different risk tolerances for ourselves than we do for our kids. We might feel comfortable reviving classic cocktails like nogs, clover cups, and gin fizzes, but we don’t extend our children that same permission for risk taking. We often don’t even discuss risks with our kids, instead labeling anything risky as bad or dangerous.

Instead of scaring kids off nog, why not conduct a family holiday math lesson? First, tell your kids what salmonella is, perhaps borrowing from the CDC website. Then, work together to develop a visualization of the risk of contracting salmonella from raw eggs.

The clearest way to do this would be to fill your fridge with 20,000 eggs, leaving 19,999 of them white and dyeing one of them red. But to do so, you would need about $3,000 and a much bigger fridge.

Perhaps you can calculate the risk in a less expensive way. I’ve previously written about why it’s important for parents to develop a set of memorable numbers, so that they can be better at visualizing risk. Given my child’s recent interest in melting things, we have a lot of Perler beads. A large jar contains 22,000 beads, which gives us a good way of visualizing salmonella risk.

If you don’t have a jar of beads, here’s a few more ways of visualizing 1-in-20,000:

1 chocolate out of 834 advent calendars
1 bean out of 16 Costco-sized jars of Jelly Bellys
1 Lego piece out of 41 medium creative brick boxes
1 day out of the next 55 years

The specific example you use isn’t that important, as long as it is personally relevant. With that memorable example in mind, your kids can depict the risk of getting sick from homemade eggnog. Armed with that visual, they can weigh the risk against the enjoyment of a few sips. If they really really really love eggnog, they might look at that visual and decide the reasonable risk is worth the reward. If they’re ambivalent about eggnog, they might see it as an unnecessary risk. Either way, you’ve helped your kids become better risk-assessors. Good times.

 Traditionalists might want to make “Auld Man’s Milk” using a hand beater, but a cocktail shaker works great, too. |  Wellcome Library

Traditionalists might want to make “Auld Man’s Milk” using a hand beater, but a cocktail shaker works great, too. | Wellcome Library

This risk/reward calculation may not be helpful for many kids, though, because before you can make any calculations you have to persuade them that something called “nog” tastes good. Who, writes Chris Malloy for The Kitchn, would want “a drink where 50 percent of the letters are g?”

You could use one of nog’s original names—Auld Man’s Milk—or you could just call it drinkable ice cream. Both eggnog and ice cream commonly include eggs, milk, cream, and sugar. The downside to this label is that if you encourage morning eggnog consumption, you might have to allow the occasional morning bowl of ice cream, too. But this is a small price to pay for helping your kids cultivate information literacy.

If your family decides to tolerate the risk for that unfrozen ice cream, there’s the matter of choosing a recipe. Making nog for one or two drinkers? Use the cocktail shaker method. The nog comes out great with or without alcohol, but if you want to make it boozy, I recommend St. George’s NOLA Coffee Liqueur.