Washing eggs, and why you shouldn’t November 9, 2012

To wash eggs or not to wash eggs… that is the question! Except that it’s not much of a question for me. Washing eggs is something that can be on the risky side, if you do it wrong, so I don’t wash my eggs unless they’re soiled. Even then, I don’t wash them unless they’re VERY soiled. And if they must be washed, I make sure to eat them before any of my good, unwashed eggs.

Washing eggs --not! This full egg carton has unwashed eggs inside.

The reason I don’t wash them is that eggs are laid with a natural, protective “bloom” on them. This coating  helps keep bacteria out of the fresh egg. Washing removes the bloom and can actually contribute to bacterial contamination. In the US, commercial egg producers claim that washing eggs is “necessary for cleanliness,” but the truth is that it’s only necessary for cleanliness when the hens aren’t kept in clean, humane conditions. (To see actual conditions factory farmed hens are forced to endure in the US click this link–but please be aware that the contents and photos are DISTURBING, so we only recommend looking if you have a strong stomach. Otherwise, just take our word for it.)

Egg washing is not necessary–and it’s actually illegal in the UK and EU for eggs that have been washed to sold as their top grade—Class A eggs. And since no one wants to buy dirty eggs, there is an incentive for the farmers there to provide clean conditions for their layers. Further, Mother Earth News did a very interesting study that demonstrated that eggs keep longer if unwashed—their store-bought agribiz eggs didn’t keep nearly as well as unwashed farm eggs.

So what’s the deal? Why would anyone want to wash their eggs?

Well, in the US, eggs from large commercial farms are required by the USDA to be washed with a detergent, and then sanitized chemically. In my state, this goes even for eggs produced humanely by small farmers. And there are all sorts of rules attached to the washing procedures, because incorrect washing significantly increases the risk of serious contamination. For washing eggs, the water has to be 20 degrees warmer than the egg (cooler water can contribute to the bacteria penetrating the shell). Then there is the chemical sanitizer. Finally, the eggs must be thoroughly dried, because bacteria can’t penetrate a shell that’s dry (which is why eggs aren’t washed in the EU). A wet egg shell provides a great medium for any bacteria to get inside and start growing.

Negligent egg washing tends to be more dangerous than not washing eggs at all. And in the home flock where hens are properly cared for— where hens have a clean, dry run as well as clean, dry bedding in the coop? I’ll say it: washing eggs that are already clean—and protected with the bloom—is silly. If you sell eggs from your hens, of course be sure to follow your local regulations, silly or not!

When it comes to refrigeration, it generally makes good sense to refrigerate your eggs. In the US, grocery stores are required to refrigerate eggs; in the UK by contrast, eggs should be kept at room temperature. I refrigerate my eggs, mostly because it keeps them fresher. Less evaporation through the egg shell occurs in cooler temperatures. Plus, in my particular case, I don’t have central air conditioning in my tumbledown old cottage. That means that in the summer, I wouldn’t be storing eggs at a normal ~70 degree room temperature. Heck, this summer during the worst of the heat wave, room temperature at our farm was as hot as 108. That’s even too hot to hatch the eggs—too hot by many degrees!

first baby chick hatching

Hatching eggs only requires a temperature of around 99.5. When it’s 108 is too hot even for me!

To be clear, even if your eggs are fertile, the likely hood of having them hatch on your counter because the temperatures are hot in your house is about zero. It’s hard to hatch eggs. I only inserted this photo jokingly, to illustrate a point. And okay, I also used it because if anyone followed the link to see what factory farm conditions are like, they may need a cute photo like this to help shake off the horror.

As for egg storage, there are other reasons to refrigerate your eggs besides the real threat of rapid evaporation and aging, and the fake threat of waking up to a counter full of baby chicks.

For instance, have you ever collected eggs in cold weather and set them on your counter or table inside for a few minutes before packing them away into the refrigerator? Perhaps you’ve gone to get some more egg cartons, or you get distracted by your kids or another pet. If you’ve done that, you’ve probably noticed that when eggs are very cold outside and come into a warm area like your kitchen table or counter, condensation can collect on the shell. As we discussed above, a wet shell is not a good thing–it provides a vehicle for bacteria to get inside.  And if there is, despite the odds, any bacterial contamination inside one of the eggs your hens have laid, the cooler temperatures inside your refrigerator would prevent it from growing as quickly.

Even in the US,  it’s pretty common for small flock owners not to refrigerate eggs for short term storage before eating at home. A lot of people use an egg basket or egg skelter so they can really show off the beauty of their flock’s eggs. And in fact, I have to admit that before I hard boil eggs for making deviled eggs, I generally let them sit out on the counter overnight. Obviously, this is not so much because I want to show them off to any unexpected overnight guests! It’s because the extra evaporation that will occur at warmer temperatures can help make the eggs easier to peel.

But for me, it’s NO to washing, YES to refrigeration. What about you—how do you handle your flock’s eggs? And for those of you that sell your eggs, do you treat them any differently than you do for eggs you eat at home?

 

 

 

18 Comments
Marion November 9th, 2012

Hi, I just started raising chickens this year and have been washing the eggs because I thought I was supposed to wash them. I have six chickens and have been averaging 4 to 5 eggs daily, although it’s slowing down now. The eggs frequently have a little poop, blood or the occasional feather on them. I put fresh bedding in the nest boxes every few days. I use fine pine chips for bedding. I have seen egg washing solutions at the feed store. Now, after reading this article, I’m not sure what to do about egg washing. I don’t like the idea of refrigerating eggs with poop on them. Any advice?

Lissa November 9th, 2012

If they’re soiled, you can certainly wash or wipe them off. Just be sure to use water that’s about 20 degrees warmer than the egg (but no more than 90 degrees). Then dry them thoroughly, and be sure to refrigerate any eggs you are forced to wash or wipe.

KristiB November 9th, 2012

Thank you for this article. We had just gotten our chickens a wk ago tomorrow and I was not sure of how to handle the eggs and the first batch I brought in, I rinsed in the kitchen faucet and put them in the fridge but after I did it I started wondering and read a little about washing eggs and so now I choose to just put them in the fridge straight from the nest. Now if they have something on them I will simply wipe it off with a napkin. I am just hoping that I did not ruin the eggs that I rinsed before!

CarolHS November 9th, 2012

I don’t wash my eggs til just before I use them. I also don’t refridgerate them as we only have three back yard chickies and we eat the eggs within a week of laying.

Ed November 9th, 2012

We have over a dozen photos of eggs for sale around the world in non-refrigerated retail and market settings in an album of our Facebook page. They clearly show how the REST of the world does it!

http://goo.gl/sbdiU
Facebook: Round Lake IL Area – Chicago Land Urban Chicken Keepers (CLUCK)

Lissa November 9th, 2012

Awesome photos!

Gail November 9th, 2012

Ditto! I don’t wash and do refrigerate… If one is a bit dirty, then i will just sand it off with fine grit sandpaper.

Birgit S November 9th, 2012

Great article, thanks! I never wash unless an egg gets really dirty, and I usually refrigerate. However, if I am setting some eggs aside to give away, I keep them out so the recipient doesn’t have to worry about rushing them to refrigeration. I love the sandpaper idea for cleaning, thanks to Gail for that.

Holly November 9th, 2012

Thank you for this information. I admit that I don’t wash my eggs everyday, more out of laziness than anything else. Most days my eggs don’t have any signs of dirt on them. I really enjoyed this article and appreciate that my laziness is actually healthier for us!

Laurie McCullen November 9th, 2012

I only wash them if they are dirty, and I do not refrigerate them

Rebeccal Medina November 9th, 2012

I do not wash my eggs and I do put them in the refrigerator. I also have sold them just as they are, not washed. I collect my eggs as soon as possible so they don’t get dirty. If I end up with any dirty eggs, I keep them and use them for myself.

Charlotte November 10th, 2012

We usually wash and always refrigerate our eggs, but even though we get between 8-14 a day, we rarely have more than 10 in the refrigerator at any one time. Even with only two of us, we go through 6 each morning, and many more get used in baking. No egg gets left uneaten for more than a few days in our house, so we have no need for long term storage.

Ti Kelley November 10th, 2012

We don’t wash or refrigerate. Eggs never get more than 4 days old here – large family of hard workers.

Dotty Joyner November 12th, 2012

I totally agree with you on both…no washing & refrigeration. I sell the eggs & keep them in a little dorm fridge. I believe that they stay fresher in the fridge…& I only want to sell fresh eggs.

Shirlene November 12th, 2012

I usually get 8-10 eggs a day from 10 layers,they usually are not soiled because I use shavings in the nest, If one is I usually just wash it off and I put all in fridge.

barb kirchner August 18th, 2013

i take good care of my chicks, and collect eggs several times a day. i sell them to friends and neighbors unwashed – and i explain why they aren’t washed and why i think it’s better. most people don’t know that we (in the US) are the oddballs, requiring perfectly good eggs to be processed (washed and sanitized) before selling. mother nature put the bloom on for a reason – what are we thinking??

mary ann waygan January 8th, 2014

ongoing debate as all my pals who keep chickens seem to have different beliefs.
mother nature is in charge and if nesting boxes are refreshed every day with clean bedding, most of the eggs stay clean. i have several families who are eager to buy eggs. i expained the bloom protection,and they are happy to have the eggs with extra protection. of course a small % of eggs get soiled, and those i clean off keeping them as dry as possible and for family use. but, any egg that is just too soiled goes to my dog tipper who eagerly awaits egg collection every day. and i must say , he only gets his treat about once every other week!

Backyard Chicken Lady March 12th, 2014

I only wash mine if they get soiled. I sell my excess eggs so any eggs that needed cleaned stay in my personal tray so my customers get eggs with the bloom intact. I fill my nest boxes with cut straw. It’s very soft and my girls love it. I can tell because they tend to linger when the nest box is freshly filled, lol. I refrigerate because I live in AZ and it can get quite warm indoors in the summer months.

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