Eggs: Washed OR Unwashed and Refrigerated OR Unrefrigerated?

Home-raised chickens are very common now, at least in our area. We have four broods all within a three block radius in our neighborhood. And these wonderful neighbors share their eggs often.

Our neighbors’ generosity has led to more than one debate over whether we should store them washed or unwashed. Have you ever wondered about this? Here’s what the pros at Mother Earth News have to say on the topic:

“To begin with, eggs are laid wet. As the egg passes through a chicken’s (or duck, or turkey...) system, and just before being laid, it’s coated in a protective ‘bloom’ or cuticle. This is important. An egg shell is a permeable surface, meaning it is covered in tiny pores. But when an egg is laid and coated with the bloom, this bloom seals off all of those tiny pores. When the pores are sealed, no bacteria can be pushed in from the outside of the egg and no moisture can be lost from the inside of the egg. [Is Mother Nature brilliant, or what?]

“In most other countries, the bloom is left intact as this is much safer for egg quality. In Europe you’ll often find eggs stocked on the unrefrigerated shelves in their grocery stores. As an American you may wonder how in the world that is safe? It all has to do with the different ways our eggs are produced and processed.

“In the U.S.A., by FDA regulations, eggs must be washed, disinfected and promptly refrigerated. Sometimes the egg producer may try to recreate the bloom with a thin coating of mineral oil, but by then, it’s too late. The pores have already been opened and who knows what may have passed through or how much internal moisture has been lost.

“The sad fact is that factory farmed chickens and eggs are raised in such close and dirty quarters (even ‘free range’!) that eggs quickly become filthy. So filthy that they must be washed and disinfected, with bleach or a similar chemical sanitizer, and refrigerated to be presentable and to reduce the risk of salmonella infection to the public. In Europe, washing eggs is not allowed as it’s thought the act of washing aids in the introduction or transfer of harmful bacteria from the outside to the inside of the egg. Two interesting and very different takes on how eggs should be handled!”

[It’s these sad living conditions of America’s factory farmed chickens, by the way, that’s prompted many people to turn to backyard chicken keeping. This way they can ensure the eggs their family eats are as nature intended (with the bloom intact).]

But back to the point: “When the bloom is allowed to be left on the egg, the egg can safely be left at room temperature for up to three months. How? Why? No bacteria is allowed into the pores, and no moisture is allowed to leave through the pores. It remains a perfect, sterile environment.”

[At our neighbors’ houses they do not wash the collected eggs, but instead they may wash a dirty egg right before they crack it. And guess what? Most of their eggs are pristine and clean to begin with. When it is the muddy season, yes, they do have some dirtier eggs as the chickens legs brush up against them when entering or exiting the nest. But this doesn’t bother our neighbors (or the folks that are lucky enough to receive their eggs)! Around here we all prefer to leave eggs in their most natural state, with the protective bloom intact and unaltered.]

[I’ll close with some suggestions for on-the-counter (or in-the-fridge if you must) ceramic egg holders. Most run $10 to $20 and can be found online or at stores such as Kohl’s, Crate and Barrel, Birch Lane, Home Depot, and so on.]

[Back in the day, though, folks just kept them in a basket. Simple is always good!]


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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