Eggs: Washed or Unwashed?

Reader Contribution by Nicole Wilkey
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Did you know that an egg is laid wet? As the egg passes though a chickens (or duck, or turkey…) system and just before being laid, it is coated in a protective ‘bloom’ or cuticle. Why is this important, you ask? An egg shell is a permeable surface, meaning it is covered in tiny pores.  When an egg is laid and coated with the bloom, this bloom seals off all of those tiny pores. When the pores are sealed, no bacteria can be pushed in from the outside of the egg and no moisture can be lost from the inside of the egg.

In most other countries, the bloom is left intact as this is often much safer for the egg quality. Go to Europe and you will often find eggs stocked on the unrefrigerated shelves in their grocery stores. As an American you may wonder how in the world that is safe? It all has to do with the different ways our eggs are produced and processed. Here in the U.S.A., eggs must be washed, disinfected and promptly refrigerated. Sometimes the egg producer may try to recreate the bloom with a thin coating of mineral oil, but by then, it’s too late. The pores have already been opened and who knows what may have passed through or how much internal moisture has been lost.

The sad fact is that factory farmed chickens and eggs are raised in such close and dirty quarters (even ‘free range’!) that the eggs quickly become filthy. So filthy that they must be washed and disinfected, with bleach or a similar chemical sanitizer, and refrigerated to be presentable and to reduce the risk of salmonella infection to the public. In Europe, washing eggs is not allowed as it is thought the act of washing may aid in the introduction or transfer of harmful bacteria from the outside to the inside of the egg. Two interesting and very different takes on how eggs should be handled! Due to the sad living conditions of the factory farmed chickens, many people have turned to backyard chicken keeping so that they can ensure the eggs their family eats are as nature intended- with the bloom intact.

When the bloom is allowed to be left on the egg, it can safely be left at room temperature for up to three months. How? Why? No bacteria is allowed inside through the pores, and no moisture is allowed to leave through the pores. It remains a perfect, sterile environment. At our house we do not wash eggs from our birds when they are collected, but instead we may wash a dirty egg right before we crack it. And you know what? Most of our eggs are pristine and clean to begin with. When it is the muddy season, yes, you will have some dirtier eggs as the chickens legs brush up against them when entering or exiting the nest. And that doesn’t bother me! We prefer to leave eggs in their most natural state, with the protective bloom intact and unaltered.  

More often than not, Mother Nature knows best. The egg bloom is Mother Nature’s way of preserving a perfect food, no alteration necessary. If you are interested in finding eggs with an intact bloom, start your own egg laying flock or seek out your local farmers for the freshest eggs possible.

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