Safe Storage? Keeping Eggs at Room Temp

Reader Contribution by Corinne Gompf and Heritage Harvest Farm
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KVijay writes: “Dear Corinne- Thanks a ton for this writeup; it’s really useful. You mention ‘It is when eggs are washed, removing the natural protective coating that they must be refrigerated.’ Could you please give some more information about this topic? …”

KVijay, I apologize for not writing in response to your question until now. I did not see the comment posted below my blog Going on Vacation? Caring for Poultry While You’re Away. It’s always best to contact me directly for immediate answers to your poultry concerns. And I am always happy to write a blog post to help others who may have the same questions.

And I appreciate all the comments readers post, except the ones about how some voodoo magic cured some dude’s herpes. We all know it’s a scam, no matter how much cobra venom, ancient tree sap, tears of a fictional red phoenix (probably the only thing that might work), or whatever the heck it is that he is pretending to slather on his privates. Sigh … just stop.

Here’s the breakdown: Before laying an egg, the hen produces something called an egg bloom, which is a protective coating on the egg that seals the shell pores. The egg bloom prevents bacteria from penetrating the shell. It is this coating that allows eggs to be stored safely at room temperature, preferably in a cool, dry location. This is why if you are unable to collect eggs for a few days because you’re on vacation (or whatever the reason), they shouldn’t spoil.

Washing off this protective coating allows the possibility for dangerous bacteria to seep into the shell’s pores or hairline cracks, thus contaminating the edible insides. This is reduced when washed eggs are refrigerated at temperatures low enough to halt bacterial growth.

Why Wash Eggs?

So why do Americans wash their eggs? One word: salmonella. While true, salmonella can be present in a hen’s ovaries, and transferred during egg production, cooking eggs to the proper temperature should kill the bacteria before making anyone sick. According to the USDA, eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why it is risky to eat raw or undercooked eggs.

In other countries, especially in Europe, hens are vaccinated against salmonella. Hence, many egg producers are not required to wash and refrigerate eggs for the mass market, like American farmers. Both procedures seem to be effective in reducing salmonella infections in consumers who eat commercially produced eggs. And, some producers coat eggs with a mineral oil to replace the bloom that was just washed off (Like, this doesn’t make sense to me.).

As for my hens’ eggs, I keep them on the counter, which is perfectly fine for personal consumption. They are safe for my family to eat, and I have never been sickened by my eggs. The key is to maintain clean nesting boxes to reduce manure exposure on the eggs and to cook eggs to the proper temperature.

What I do do (see what I did there? wink), is rinse off the eggs right before I use them. I want to remove any bits of bedding, feathers, or manure so that I don’t contaminate my counter or bowl when I crack the egg. And, let’s face it, I don’t want any of that falling into my bowl of cookie dough. Ain’t no recipe on Earth calling for poop crumbles.

When an egg is really covered in excessive chicken poop, I either wash it or toss it in the field for the barn cats to eat. The eggs that I wash are then refrigerated. Or, after a week or so, if I’m not using my eggs as frequently as I should be, then I’ll wash the eggs and store in the fridge to extend their shelf life. And if I am asked to bring deviled eggs to a gathering, I know that I need older eggs so that they will peel easily (more on that in an upcoming blog post), so I designate eggs for that purpose, and wash and refrigerate them for at least five days.

Now, when I had my license to sell eggs and butchered chicken at farmers’ markets, the state of Ohio required that I wash and refrigerate all eggs to be sold off the farm. At the farm’s production peak, I was washing about 15 dozens a day, and had to have consistent customer support to maintain enough space in the refrigerator for the eggs (and beer). And let me just tell you that hand-washing that many eggs sucked! We did buy one of those overpriced bubbling-egg-washing-bucket-thingies, and it kind of worked for the eggs that were already mostly clean. I found it time-consuming and didn’t really get the turd stalagmites off the shells. It was simply more efficient to just grab a stiff brush and wash the eggs by hand.

Keep in mind, however, that once you wash your eggs, you must refrigerate them to reduce the chance for harmful bacterial growth. And, once they’re refrigerated, you can not store eggs at room temperature. No, you can’t buy eggs from the grocery store and pretend to be a homesteader and keep them on your counter. They will sweat, and potentially start to grow bacteria that can make you sick.

So, KVijay, I hope this gives you a little more insight into storing eggs at room temp. Heck, it’s how my in-laws stored eggs for years. Many chicken-keepers do not refrigerate eggs, but some do. It’s a matter of personal preference and confidence in what your homestead is producing. If you’d rather wash and refrigerate your eggs, then do so. Either way, just keep your chickies happy and healthy, and everything should be fine.

Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.

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