Commercially packaged pasteurized egg whites are rich in protein, convenient and safe if handled properly. Packaged raw egg whites are becoming more popular for use in cholesterol-free egg dishes and energy drinks, but they may not be as safe as the whites that you pour straight from the shell. Handling and packaging exposes egg whites to bacterial contamination, which puts you at risk for food poisoning. If you're concerned about the safety of the raw egg whites you've been consuming, you may want to check the label on the carton to make sure they've been pasteurized.
Packaged Raw Egg Whites
If you've ever separated multiple eggs so you could use their whites for protein smoothies, meringues or other recipes, you probably appreciate the convenience of commercially packaged raw egg whites. When you're preparing a quick, non-fat omelet before work, you probably don't have time to coax an egg yolk away from the white. If you're watching your intake of saturated fats, you may end up discarding the yolk, and that can feel wasteful. Prepackaged egg whites offer a source of high-quality protein that you can use as an immediate energy booster or cooking ingredient.
Pasteurized Egg Whites
Since the late 1800's, pasteurization has been used to prevent bacterial contamination in dairy products. By heating milk or other liquids, harmful microbes may be reduced or eliminated. This protects you against pathogens that could make you sick and preserves a food's freshness for longer periods of time. You still need to refrigerate egg whites or other pasteurized liquids to keep them from spoiling, but if handled and stored properly, the foods should stay fresh until their expiration date. You may find that the quality of the proteins in raw egg whites degrades over time after you've opened the carton. To protect their quality and freshness, use raw egg whites as soon as possible and keep the carton closed and refrigerated.
Unpasteurized Egg Whites
The eggshell is a naturally sterile container that protects the yolk and white from contamination. If you use them right after you crack open the shell, unpasteurized egg whites should be safe, but buying prepackaged raw egg whites may be a risky venture. Unpasteurized egg whites are prone to contamination by Salmonella, a common source of food poisoning, and other harmful bacteria. If you prefer to use raw egg whites that are unaltered and additive-free, it's safest to buy them in their original packaging -- the eggshell.
Powdered Egg Whites
Powdered egg whites are a safe, easy alternative to fresh whites. Because they've been pasteurized and dehydrated, powdered whites have a longer shelf life, and you can store the powder at room temperature. You can reconstitute powdered egg whites for recipes by mixing them with water, or add powder directly to shakes or smoothies for extra protein.
If raw egg whites don't smell completely fresh or are discolored or coagulated, stay on the safe side and discard them. Seek medical attention if you have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal cramping -- symptoms of food poisoning -- after eating raw egg whites. If you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system, you should avoid unpasteurized egg or milk products altogether.