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Some Eggs Are Making Me Sick

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a long time. Someone other than me must be suffering from this and not know it. It took me months to figure out that eggs were making me sick to my stomach. Maybe I can help someone figure it out quicker than I did.

About fifteen months ago I started feeling sick to my stomach. Not always nauseous, more like how you feel when you know you’re going to have diarrhea (sorry – that’s the last time I’ll be using that word in this post). And my back was killing me all the time. Sometimes I felt feverish. I felt like this all day, every day, for the summer of 2013. It really sucked.

Ruling Out Wheat

My big fear, at first, was that I was having a problem with wheat. I live on bread and pasta. Take away my carbs and you might as well take away my soul as well. But I was feeling so terrible that I actually tried giving up wheat.

My plan was to do it for a week and see if things got better. But I quit after four days because there was no change. On the one hand I was glad – I could still eat bread! But on the other, I still had no clue what was going on.

Tests

After about a month I really started to get worried. Did I have some kind of horrible intestinal disease? Were the amoebas that had hitch-hiked back home with me after a trip to South America in 1998 making a comeback tour? Did I have some kind of cancer?

I went to my doctor, who checked me out and ordered some blood tests and stool tests (man was that an experience, let me tell you…on second thought, I’m not going to, because it was a really really really gross process). I was afraid of what the tests would find, but whatever it was would be better than not knowing and just feeling sick all the time.

The tests showed nothing.

Breakthrough

Then, after about three months of feeling like that (it was beginning to feel normal – I have no idea how I was functioning), I took the kids to my mom’s house in Buffalo for a six day visit. One of the reasons I love visiting my mom is that my favorite fast food restaurant, Mighty Taco, is on her corner. Usually when I’m staying with her I just wait to eat until MT opens up at 10:30 and have a nice healthy breakfast of burritos and nachos.

Despite how I was feeling, my MT habit didn’t change (I mean, it wasn’t going to make my stomach worse). And by day three I realized that I was feeling better. Not just better, but good. By the time I left my mom’s house to head back to Brooklyn I felt totally normal.

And on the drive back it hit me. It hit me like a ton of bricks falling on my head. I hadn’t had a single egg in six days.

At home I start pretty much every single day off with an egg or two, scrambled or in an omelet. I’ve been doing this for decades. And now, suddenly, eggs appeared to be making me sick.

Confirmation

When I got home I started experimenting. First, I made some cookies using eggs as an ingredient, and ate a couple. I was fine. Phew.

Then I hard-boiled an egg and ate that. Again, no reaction. Eggs cooked very well seemed to be OK.

Then, just to make sure, I scrambled an egg on my third morning back and ate it. And within three or four hours, that sick feeling came back. Bingo. It took almost two days until I felt OK again.

I was glad (dancing-in-the-streets thrilled, actually) that I’d found the culprit. But I missed eating eggs.

Fresh Eggs

A couple months later I was back at my doctor’s office for something routine and I mentioned what I’d discovered. She suggested that I try a really fresh egg. Like, right out of the chicken fresh.

I figured that Fresh Direct was my best shot. I bought the freshest, most expensive eggs they carried. And I ate one scrambled. And I was fine!!!

Then the next time I bought them, I felt sick again. What the heck was going on?

Things went on like that until I hooked up with a group called Farmigo. Now, every Wednesday, I get a delivery of really fresh eggs, and I can eat those to my heart’s content (I’m guessing that there’s some variation as to just how fresh the expensive Fresh Direct eggs are, and since my stomach seems to be super sensitive to older eggs, even a week could make the difference, I’m guessing).

I’m still not 100% sure what’s going on. Some people have suggested to me that it has to do with antibiotics and such but honestly, the rest of my diet is such crap that I doubt it. Antibiotics in milk don’t seem to bother me (but ALL milk bothers me without taking a Lactaid tablet first).

Old Eggs

As eggs age they develop sulfur, and I’m guessing that that’s the key here for me. Really really old, rotten eggs smell overwhelmingly like sulfur, but it takes a long time for an egg to get to that point. You can get a clue as to how old an egg is based on whether it floats, stands, or sinks in water. As an egg ages, its protective membrane gets weaker, and air gets inside. A fresh egg will sink, an older egg will stand on end, and a really old egg will float (doesn’t mean that that egg isn’t safe, it’s just old).

According to the USDA, which regulates eggs, the “use by” date can be as long as 45 days after the egg was packed (and they don’t seem to define how long the egg can hang around the farm before being packed, either!):

Terminology such as “Use by”, “Use before”, “Best before” indicates a period that the eggs should be consumed before overall quality diminishes. Code dating using these terms may not exceed 45 days including the day the eggs were packed into the carton.

But here is a factory egg on the left and a Farmigo egg on the right. Both sank. So if age really is the culprit, we’re talking about an amount of time that’s a lot smaller than this test can determine.

WP_20141020_003

If I had the patience, I would buy several dozen Farmigo eggs and eat one a day until I got sick, to determine how old an egg could be before it affected me. But I don’t see myself doing that any time soon. I buy a dozen eggs from pastured hens each week from Farmigo, and I use the leftovers from the week before for hard-boiled eggs or baking.

My advice to you, if you think you’re having this problem, is to go find the very freshest egg you can (farmers’ markets are great for this) and see if that makes a difference.

Restaurants

I can no longer eat eggs at any old restaurant. Sometimes if I’m at a really nice restaurant I’ll grill my server on how fresh the eggs are (yes, I’ve had to become that person) and get some, but usually I just skip them.

Incidentally, I seem to be fine eating a breakfast sandwich from Burger King, which leads me to believe that they either use really fresh eggs, or some kind of packaged, preserved egg liquid (I’d prefer the latter, since it leaves less to chance). I haven’t tried McDonald’s breakfast biscuits yet. When I worked at McDonald’s we used whole, freshly cracked eggs when making breakfast, but that was more than twenty years ago.

Why Write Now?

So why am I writing about this today of all days? Because I’m still getting tripped up by this and did it to myself again yesterday. I made fresh pasta the way I always make fresh pasta: one egg per person. And since I was making a large amount of pasta and meatballs, I had to send my husband to the store for a couple cartons of eggs. Cheap, factory eggs, because that’s what he buys. And since I wasn’t cracking the eggs into a pan and eating them right away, it totally didn’t occur to me that I needed to use the good eggs!!!

I had two big bowls of pasta last night and then went to bed. I woke up several times last night with reflux and I felt terrible. Feverish and crampy. I woke up this morning thinking it was just the red sauce, which always gives me trouble if I eat it too late. But as the day wore on I felt worse and worse. I asked my husband if he felt OK. I was going to ask our dinner guests from the night before if they felt sick. Had I poisoned our guests somehow?

And then my back started to hurt and I realized what was going on. Crap.

The good news is (besides the fact that I didn’t sicken my friends and family with a pasta dinner somehow), I know that I should feel fine by this time tomorrow.

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