Eight maids are milking

Will the alcohol kill off any Salmonella in my eggnog?
29 December 2016


Everyone sings: on the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Chris Smith and Graihagh Jackson sample some eggnog in the company of James Bowers, Hugh Hunt and Eleanor Drinkwater...

Graihagh - So for the 8th day of Christmas we’ve got some wonderful milky eggnog for us all to have a try. So. I’ll pour some out for everyone to try

James, apparently you’re a bit of an eggnog expert. I can smell the brandy. What’s in eggnog?

James - It’s made up of, obviously, eggs - lots of eggs. Milk or cream and a fair amount of sugar which is often mixed with some rum, bourbon, whisky or other alcoholic…

Graihagh - I can definitely smell it. I’m going to start passing these down. Here you go Hugh, are you an eggnog fan?

Hugh - Mmmmm

Graihagh - That sounds promising James. One for you and Alan as well. there you go Chris, do you want one as well?

Chris - Is this homemade, Graihagh? Did you make this?

Graihagh - Caroline’s made it for us. Here you go Chris one for you. How many are we short - who hasn’t got one? Alan okay, you’re in need of one.

It's a rather weird concoction. So what’s the story, why does this exist?

James - Apparently, back in the day, a long, long time ago. Even back to the 1300s things like milk and eggs were really sought after because it was only really the rich, upper classes that could afford to drink and eat those things.

Graihagh - And presumably alcohol as well?

James - And alcohol as well. So there was this drink that was call posset, which was drunk by the upper classes and then later on…

Chris - Doesn’t that mean a baby vomiting?

James - Posset.

Graihagh - I was actually thinking of possums. Something completely different.

James - And eventually, in the 1700s that got developed into where they were adding wine and beer to it.

Graihagh - Wow!

James - They think the name ‘nog’ comes from, there’s two different things. Beer from East Anglia at the time was called nog, or noggin was also the name of the cup we would drink alcohol out of at the time. I guess, somewhere along the line, that ended up in America and stuck a little bit more over there than it does here. Because in America, they tend to drink a lot more eggnog over there at Christmas than I think we do in the UK but they held onto it more than we did.

Graihagh - What does everyone think - should we reintroducing it to our Christmas holidays?

Chris - It’s lovely. I’ve never had eggnog before.

Eleanor - I quite like it.

Hugh - Well, I’ve got plenty of extra egg here if anyone would like some more.

Graihagh - Speaking of raw eggs - I remember my granny never let me eat the raw mixture. She’d never let us lick out of the cake bowl which I was always disappointed about. So is this sort of thing safe to drink?

James - The danger with raw egg is Salmonella.

Chris - Hang on… You’re asking us this question after we’ve all just necked some of it.

Graihagh - And I also haven’t had any of it yet so I’m waiting.

Chris - I did notice that.

Graihagh - Bated breath basically.

James - The danger with the Salmonella in the raw egg, even up until the 80s or 90s and early 2000s, it was said that as much as one percent of all the eggs that were tested could, potentially, contain Salmonella. Which might not sound like a lot but it’s one in a hundred eggs and it’s still quite a lot and quite a high risk of Salmonella. So it’s much safer to eat pasteurised eggs because that kills off most of the bacteria that would be in there. But these days the Food Safety Agency in the UK is saying that it’s a lot safer now to be eating raw eggs and the possibility of getting Salmonella from a raw egg is much lower than it used to be even ten years ago. Although you do need to be careful of Salmonella and things like that so probably best not to eat too many.

Graihagh - Chris, with your other hat on - you're a microbiologists at Addenbrooke's hospital - do you find you get many cases of Salmonella?

Chris - No, thankfully, the numbers are extremely low these days. Back in the 80s when people were worried about Salmonella in eggs there were thousands of cases but that's because, and the number has come right down, is because there’s a good vaccine which is administered to farmed chickens and it stops them having Salmonella. There is another bug they can carry called Campylobacter, but that’s something quite different. But the number of Salmonella cases is now vanishingly rare, so we can actually assume that raw eggs are probably absolutely fine now. The risk is extremely low.

Hugh - Where does this word Salmonella come from? It sounds like it originally came from fish.

Chris - It does, doesn’t it? And I don’t know what the origin of it is. I know who typhoid Mary was though and I wouldn’t want to make friends with her!

Graihagh - Well, as you guys tuck in after that egg-cellent bit of science, we’ll move on to our next day of Christmas...


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