Why are we always so charmed by the size and color variation in our eggs? Few things make me prouder than handing a carton of beautiful fresh eggs to my friends and family to enjoy. My favorite part – when they open the carton and ohh and ahh! I’m usually not one to gloat, but I just can’t help it when it comes to my hens and their beautiful, fresh eggs.
How Long do Fresh Eggs Last?
I am often asked about the best way to care for those beautiful eggs and how long they will last. Each flock owner has their own routine for care when it comes to their fresh eggs. You have to decide the SAFEST and best way for you and your family to get maximum enjoyment from the eggs that you collect.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that all eggs be collected as soon as possible, usually within 12 to 24 hours. Each egg is then washed and sanitized using only compounds meeting FDA regulations for processing foods. Finally, eggs are placed in a refrigerator set at 40oF or lower. These eggs are then required to remain in refrigerated storage until consumed. The USDA also recommends that raw eggs be stored in your home refrigerator for 3 to 5 weeks, maximum.
Should You Wash Fresh Eggs?
Now, if you have any experience at all with backyard poultry, you know this can be a contentious discussion. You wouldn’t think “To Wash or Not To Wash” could rile so many feathers (pun intended!), but it absolutely does. To help you make the best decision for your flock and your eggs, let’s talk about the science behind the egg.
I often tell people that one of the easiest ways to troubleshoot issues with your flock and egg production is to think of egg production for what it truly is. Egg production is reproduction. Air and moisture must be able to transfer in and out of an egg in order for a baby chick to properly develop and hatch. Therefore, an eggshell is a porous vessel. If air and moisture can transfer in and out the egg, then bad bacteria and other pathogens can certainly make their way into the egg as well. The concept behind washing and sanitizing an egg is to remove any bad bacteria that could be present on the eggshell. The reason for refrigeration is two-fold: first, refrigeration slows the growth of any bad bacteria that may be inside the egg and second, to maintain quality (more on this later!).
Why, you may ask, do some people and certainly some countries (most of Europe!) not wash their eggs and also store them at room temperature? Since we are thinking of egg production as reproduction, the answer is quite simple. When the hen lays an egg, one of the last things she does is deposit a very thin protective membrane, known as the cuticle or the bloom, on the outside surface of the egg. The purpose of this membrane is to protect a developing chick inside the egg and help control respiration during incubation. This protective membrane provides a natural barrier that can help prevent bad bacteria or pathogens from penetrating the pores of the egg shell. However, this membrane is not fool-proof. It can degrade over time and is easily removed if the egg is washed.
What is the Safest Way to Care for Fresh Eggs?
Now that we understand some of the science behind the egg, we need to decide the SAFEST and best way to care for our eggs. If you choose to store your eggs at room temperature, it is usually best to consume those eggs within 1 to 2 weeks. While an egg stored on the counter for longer than 2 weeks may be perfectly safe to eat, egg quality declines more rapidly at room temperature. An unwashed egg stored at room temperature can degrade from Grade AA (air cell smaller than a dime) to Grade B (air cell larger than a quarter) in as little as a week. These eggs are usually perfectly safe to eat but the yolk and egg whites may appear watery and thin when the egg is cracked. Unwashed eggs stored for extended periods (3-4 months) at room temperature can lose up to 15% of their weight. That means your Extra Large eggs are now essentially Medium eggs, by weight.
Nancy Jefferson Ph.D.
Do Fresh Eggs Need to be Refrigerated?
If you choose to wash your eggs, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost, once an egg is washed, it must be refrigerated. Remember, the thin protective member (cuticle/bloom) is easily disturbed and removed at washing. Once you remove that membrane, you remove the natural barrier that helps prevent bad bacteria from entering the egg. Second, because the egg shell is porous, it is best not to submerge the egg in water. Holding the egg under a running faucet or dipping the egg in water allows the water to drain away and prevents contaminated water from being sucked into the egg shell. When washing your eggs, you want to make sure to use warm water – at least 20°F warmer than the current temperature of the eggs. As most natural things are prone to do, temperature variation between the outside and inside of the egg will try to become balanced (equilibrate). If the water is too cold, it will cause the inside portion of the egg to contract which could pull contaminants from the outside of the shell to the inside of the shell. Lastly, if your eggs are clean and free of cracks (keep those nesting boxes clean and dry!!), many people will choose to skip the washing all together and simply refrigerate the unwashed eggs.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to care for your eggs, you can choose the method that works best for you and your family. Personally, my hens produce more eggs than my family can eat in 1-2 weeks, so I choose to wash and refrigerate. Choose the method that is safest and works best for you and your family. Most importantly, ENJOY THOSE BEAUTIFUL FRESH EGGS!!!
Stay tuned! Next week we will continue our celebration of the laying hen. We will be live from the coop (register here)! You can join us in touring a backyard poultry coop, see some fun tips and hacks for keeping chickens and mixed flocks, and get all of your frequently asked questions answered.
Disclaimer. This article is for informational purposes only and is intended for poultry keepers collecting eggs for personal use. Producers selling or distributing eggs to the public should consult with their local health department and follow all rules and regulations established by federal, state, and local governments.