Saturday, August 24, 2013

Safe Egg Handling

This topic seems to keep cropping up, so I am blogging about it again.

With all the "keeping chickens" craze that seems to be exploding, there come questions of all sorts. Two common ones are:

  • Should I refrigerate my eggs?
  • Should I wash my eggs? If so, when? Before or after refrigeration?

There are as many answers to those questions as there are bloggers in the blogosphere. Here is my take on the topic, based on my many years as a 4-H poultry leader, longtime breeder of poultry, and farmwife for more than a decade now.

If you are raising your own chickens and want to know if you should wash/refrigerate your own eggs, or if you're buying eggs from a local farmer, the answers are the same.

Yes, you should refrigerate the eggs. They'll stay fresher longer that way, and taste better.

Yes, you should wash the eggs. But here's the thing, do it after they've gotten cold in the fridge, and just before use. 

Why, you ask? When a hen lays an egg, she deposits this lovely mucoidal coating on them called the "bloom", which gives the egg a seal that prevents most bacteria from entering, and yet which allows the egg to breathe. Eggs are porous, and do need to breathe, otherwise the developing embryo (assuming the egg has been fertilized) can't grow. That's the point of a hen laying an egg, to hatch a chick, so all hens do this.

However, the bloom isn't airtight, it's not made of plastic, and as such it does breathe. And if left out on your kitchen counter, an egg will slowly get stale, because it is absorbing air over time. They also lose flavor if stored at room temperature on the counter, and can absorb whatever odors are in the air (if you cook onions a lot, in theory, your countertop stored eggs could absorb some of that odor.)

So you should really put your eggs in the fridge. But don't wash them before you do so, because once an egg is washed, the bloom is removed, and the evaporation process speeds up and they get staler faster, and will also absorb odors from the fridge faster.

The thing to do is, collect your eggs, gently wipe off any excess dirt/feces with a dry piece of paper towel or cloth, put them in a clean egg carton, and put them in the fridge. Then, once they're good and cold, and just before using them, wash them in very hot water with a little dish soap.

The hot water on the cold egg prevents germs and dirt from being sucked into the egg, and allows it to be washed off. And the egg will be fresher because you've kept it in the fridge and delayed the evaporation process. I posted this picture before, but will do so again, because it demonstrates how the air cell in an egg increases over time. If left on the counter, that process accelerates, putting the eggs in the fridge delays the process.

I have heard the arguments about "When I lived in Europe (or South America, or wherever) we never put eggs in the fridge." Well, I live in the US (as do the folks I am targeting this blog post to), and here in the US we have different issues with regards to disease - Salmonella that is carried by wild birds and rodents that can get into your chicken coop and infect your birds without you even knowing it.

So when someone tosses that argument at me, I say, it's not germane to discussions about chickens in the US. There have been a number of outbreaks of Salmonella in the US this year (and previous ones), I was even asked to sit in on a conference call earlier this year with the CDC regarding same. It's here, and we have to deal with it using safe handling measures for our chickens and their eggs.

Bottom line folks: put the eggs in the fridge, and wash just before use. They'll stay fresher, and you'll stay healthier. 

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