Basket of farm fresh eggs

REAL farm fresh eggs.

Recently, a customer asked me, “Do I need to refrigerate your eggs”? This question comes up every once in a while on Facebook or in other places, so I thought I’d write up a more formal answer and my thoughts on this. You may have run across one of the many articles on this subject (just type in US vs European egg refrigeration), which are often slanted to give you the impression that “in the US, we’re doing it all wrong”, and then wondered, but what about local eggs?

Eggs come naturally out of the chicken with a coating called a “bloom”. This bloom helps protect bad stuff from getting into the egg when it’s sitting under the warm humid environment of a mama chicken for three weeks, turning into a baby chick. Egg shells are actually slightly permeable, and lose moisture over time. (As an aside, you can tell if an egg is really old by putting it in a bowl of water. If it doesn’t sit horizontally on the bottom, that means it has a fairly well developed air pocket on one end, which happens as eggs age. If it floats fat end up or completely vertical, its REALLY old, and you should probably just toss it.)

egg handling

The official safe handling instructions that are required to be on all cartons of eggs sold off farm.

In the US, in order for eggs to be sold commercially, they need to be washed and refrigerated. This came out of a bunch of different cultural left turns around salmonella worries and bad batches of eggs. (Note that in the UK, they vaccinate their chickens against salmonella, but for some unknown reason, that isn’t required in the US). After a while, HOW to wash your eggs became standardized. Because if you have something icky on one egg, and you put it in to soak with 50 other eggs, now all 50 eggs have that ick on them, which could slowly leak through the shell and contaminate the inside of the egg.

In Washington State, the directions for washing eggs are as follows:

Clean eggs as needed soon after collecting. (Cleaning eggs refrigerated below 55º F may cause shells to crack or check.) Minimal cleaning protects the natural protective covering on the shell.

Acceptable egg cleaning methods include: a.) dry cleaning by lightly “sanding” the stains or minimal dirty areas with sand paper; b .) using potable water in a hand spray bottle and immediately wiping dry with a single service paper towel, and/or; c.) briefly rinsing with running water spray and immediately wiping dry with a single service paper towel. The “wash” water shall be a minimum of 90º F, which is warm “to the touch”, and shall be at least twenty degrees warmer than the temperature of the eggs to be washed.
Unacceptable cleaning methods include: submerging shell eggs in water or any other solution or using cleaners that are not food grade and approved for shell egg cleaning. The porous egg shell is not impervious to odors, chemicals, and “off” flavors.

It’s nice that the state recognizes that if the egg looks clean, there is no need to additionally clean it; that preserving the natural coating is preferred.

IMG_20160308_154254466watermark

The real chickens of Miles Away Farm.

But here’s the thing. If you are in commercial production, and your chickens are in wire cages where the waste drops through, and the egg, once laid, rolls down into a trough where it’s out of the way of the chicken, those eggs are gonna be pretty clean (assuming the chicken doesn’t already have salmonella or some other thing that can be passed into the egg). But they wash them anyway, because who knows what’s floating around in the air with thousands of chickens in an indoor space.

Duck Egg Nest

Duck egg nest.

With small farm chicken eggs, where the chickens are able to run around outside in the grass and naturally forage, the chickens poop pretty much everywhere. And then they walk where they poop. And then they lay eggs in a nest with a lot of other chickens. Eggs that don’t roll out of the way, but instead get stepped on by the next chicken coming into the nest, or the one just leaving. And I’m here to tell you folks, some of those eggs, well, they are definitely NOT clean. It takes some work to get them clean. (Note: if they are really bad, I just keep them for home use, even after they are cleaned up). Trust me, if I just put unwashed eggs into a carton, my customers would freak the heck out. I don’t wash them unless they need it, but depending on the season (rain and mud are the worst) they need a good wipe. Duck eggs are even worse.

Carton of eggs

Egg second in on left is actually a turkey egg.

Which brings us to refrigeration. If you wash an egg, you wash off that natural bloom. And that natural bloom helps the egg stay fresh at room temperature by protecting anything on the outside from getting to the inside. We KNOW that room temperature is optimum for bacteria to grow, given the right medium. If people REALLY want to keep their eggs at room temperature, I don’t recommend doing it for more than a week. And health departments frown at storing previously refrigerated eggs at room temperature, because the temperature change can cause them to “sweat”, ie for moisture to collect on the outside, which is then a breeding ground for bacteria. So I don’t recommend storing eggs at room temperature period. Why risk it when we have this crazy newfangled thing called refrigeration, where eggs will stay fresh and healthy for 4 to 6 weeks, easily.

Need an egg to be at room temperature quickly? Take it out of the fridge and put it in a bowl of warm water (around 100 degrees). It should come to room temperature by the time you are done gathering your other ingredients. If you have your own chickens and want to store your eggs at room temperature, more power to you. But don’t wash them and don’t refrigerate them first, and be sure to use them within a week or two at the longest.

© Miles Away Farm 2018, where we’re miles from running out of eggs this time of year, can’t eat duck eggs due to an unexpected food allergy, relish turkey egg season, and keep our eggs refrigerated. And WELCOME to all the recent new subscribers, after I received a write up in the local Walla Walla Lifestyles Magazine!