Do You Have to Refrigerate Your Eggs? (And Some Fresh Egg Handling Tips)
I trust my chickens---I mean I really do. (Mainly because I take super good care of my ladies.) They are some very good girls. I even give them worms! In exchange, they give me the BEST fresh eggs in the world. But that niggling question always comes up when folks new to our ways come over to visit and see the bowl full of eggs sitting out on the counter, "You don't refrigerate your eggs? Is that safe?"
Do you have to refrigerate eggs?
Well, let me tell you, the answer is: Sometimes YES. Sometimes No.
Here's the real deal on whether or not you need to refrigerate your eggs, plus some safe egg handling and storage tips too.
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Do You Have to Refrigerate Your Eggs? Yes. And No. It All Depends.
How's that for a gray answer? I'll be a little more black and white if I can:
When the Answer is YES to Refrigerating Chicken Eggs:
1) If you buy the eggs from a U.S. grocery store
You see, if you are buying your eggs from a grocery store in the United States of America, then you really DO need to refrigerate your eggs as quickly as possible---like within a couple of hours or so.
This is because commercial eggs in our country are washed with a bleach or other chemical solution to completely eradicate (supposedly) the bacteria on the egg. Unfortunately, commercially raised chickens in those horrible egg factories tend to have a much higher rate of salmonella and other nasties than backyard chickens do.
I'm really tempted to go on a rant right now and tell you all about how these poor commercial "Big Ag" chickens are treated in these factory farms....but I'll refrain. You can research. I would start with the good old favorite documentary, "Food, Inc." or Joel Salatin's book, "Folks, This Ain't Normal" and go on from there.
The other reason you should refrigerate a commercial egg is because a store bought egg is most likely 9 weeks old or older before it gets to you! Doesn't that just give you the heeby jeebies?
But the lucky free-range chickens in our backyard? They are happy, healthy, and it turns out the rate of salmonella found in backyard chicken flocks is very low---like practically nonexistent.
In fact, if you go into a market in Europe or in many other countries, you will most likely find eggs on the store shelves, UN-refrigerated! How's that for a shocker? In some countries it is absolutely illegal to wash the eggs!
2) If you have washed or refrigerated the fresh eggs from your chickens or a friends' chickens
If you have refrigerated your fresh eggs:
Once you refrigerate a fresh egg, it will start to "sweat" when you take it out of the fridge. There are tiny pores on the shell, and it is possible for any bacteria to be leached into the egg as it sweats, or heats up after refrigeration.
If you have washed your eggs:
Also, if you have washed your fresh egg, you have effectively washed off what is called the "bloom." The bloom is a natural coating the chicken covers it with as it exits her vent. It's like Clear Coat! Seriously!
This bloom helps close off the pores on the egg shell to outside contamination, thereby keeping a fertilized egg (chick inside) safe and healthy. If the egg is unfertilized, then the inside part just stays lovely for a long time.
Once that bloom is washed off, it's gone, and the egg is now unprotected from outside contamination. All bets are off. You'll need to refrigerate that egg now.
When the Answer is "No" to Refrigerating Your Eggs:
If you go out and collect your own farm-fresh (or backyard-fresh) eggs, you do not need to refrigerate them as long as you do not wash off the bloom.
But what about the dirt, you may ask? And the poop that sometimes smears onto the egg?
Yep. Sometimes there is some mud or poop on the egg. Honestly, I personally don't worry about this much. If the egg is SUPER gross, then I may go ahead and give it a good dry scrub, then decide to refrigerate or not. It honestly depends on how much room I have in my fridge, how dirty the egg was, and how hard I dry-scrubbed it (if at all).
Think about what the pioneers did in the olden days? Or even just a few decades ago when refrigerators were very small? Folks who kept chickens kept their eggs on the counter top.
I'll bet if you could ask your great-great-grandmother (or in my case, my great-grandmother) what they did with their eggs, they would tell you they stayed on the countertop. Probably with the butter and the bacon grease too.
The bottom line is if you keep your coop and chicken area clean, feed your chickens well, then you are unlikely to have any kind of an issue eating eggs that have been kept at room temperature.
Here are some other reasons why I do not refrigerate my fresh eggs:
I like to have room temperature eggs ready to go for baking
They look awesome on the counter---very "farmy," and that makes me super happy
I know I don't need to use my premium fridge space for eggs that don't need refrigeration, and sometimes I have a LOT of eggs, like way too many for the fridge
If you have any kind of doubt, though---just go ahead and refrigerate your eggs. Like if your eggs get wet for some reason, or you just can't wrap your mind around the notion we all grew up with here in the U.S. that natural is dirty and eggs should be cold---
Peace of mind is sometimes worth it.
And now, I'll bet you're probably wondering:
How Long Can a Fresh Egg Keep on the Countertop?
I'll tell you: I'm not sure because in my experience, our eggs are usually gone before I worry about it.
One time, I had some eggs on the counter for around four to six weeks because we just had SO many. Because I wasn't sure about some of these (and they were all mixed up with fresh ones since I had changed the bowl they were in to a larger one), I ended up doing the "float test."
You may have heard of the float test.
Inside the egg is a membrane that surrounds the yolk and the white. Well, as the egg ages, the membrane pulls away from the shell, leaving a bubble of air. You can tell if an egg is too old, ok, or just "getting there" by the way it acts when submerged in water.
Here's how to do the float test to see if an egg is good to use:
1) Put your egg in a cup of water.
2) If it floats to the top, it should not be used. Get rid of it.
3) If it kind of hangs out in the middle, it's on its way out. Crack it over a bowl so you can see the inside before using, and use it right away if it looks ok. (I use these eggs to make hard-boiled eggs because they are SO easy to peel.)
4) If it remains on the bottom of the glass, it's just fine to use. No worries.
NOTE: If you do the float test, and your egg is fine---keep in mind you have just essentially "washed" it, and it should go in the refrigerator unless you plan to use it right away.
Final Thoughts on Whether or Not a Fresh Egg Needs to be Refrigerated
What do you think? Do you refrigerate your eggs? How safe do you feel leaving them on the counter?
I have to admit, when I started buying fresh eggs from a neighbor (before I had my own hens), I felt kind of strange and a little unsafe about leaving the eggs on the counter top.
Also, when my neighbor handed me a box of "dirty" eggs---you know, with a smear of poop, a feather, or mud caked on---it kind of grossed me out.
I have to laugh at my reaction back then! I really do!
Like most folks in this modern day and age of disconnection from our food sources, I thought eggs were supposed to always be pristinely clean and cold--and usually white.
Now that I have educated myself about modern commercial food practices (and started raising my own chickens several years ago), I just shake my head. I can't believe I bought into all that hogwash. But then....when you are raised to think a certain something from a young age, what else are you supposed to know or believe?
It's my true and real hope that everyone in our country will start doing their own sleuthing and find out the TRUE story behind our modern American food practices. Then go about making some serious changes, my friends.
You may also enjoy these books about our American food:
Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin
The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Food, Inc. (the documentary)
What do you think? Where are you on the egg refrigeration debate? Or the food debate in general? I'd love for you to leave your comments/questions/thoughts for us all in the comments section---
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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A little Disclaimer: My food handling practices are personal to me, based on what I have learned from my own experiences and research. Please do your own research before making any changes to your own food safety handling practices. I'm not responsible for any decisions you make.