The United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world that scrubs its eggs for market. Most European counties do not.
Fear of illness from legitimate salmonella outbreaks has certainly influenced the evolution of our food system over the last century, but once manufacturers scrub off the egg’s protectant membrane, aka the bloom, the egg becomes susceptible to pathogens seeping into the egg. To slow down possible contamination through the shell, the cleaned eggs must be refrigerated.
Bacteria can get in through the shell once an egg is scrubbed, but an unwashed, dry egg is unlikely to become contaminated from the outside. Chickens themselves become infected with salmonella bacteria, often without symptoms of illness. Infected hens lay eggs that are contaminated inside the yolk. Scrubbed or not, those eggs will be contaminated until they’re cooked thoroughly. Because hens lay eggs that are already contaminated, scrubbing and refrigeration won’t stop salmonella. Only healthy hens prevent salmonella.
In countries that don’t scrub their eggs, the choice has as much to do with common sense as it does energy efficiency. Sometimes these countries vaccinate hens against salmonella to protect the egg supply at the source, but this isn’t mandated in the U.S. Then, they leave eggs unwashed with the protective bloom intact. Eggs can be stored this way safely for about three weeks, versus nearly two months with refrigeration. The unwashed egg protects itself for viability, as its purpose is for reproduction, so the Europeans often let nature do its job, while not expending non-renewable energy resources to chill eggs.
To Wash or Not?
Whether you wash your eggs before storing them is entirely up to you, but you can be confident that not washing your eggs isn’t gross, disgusting or unsanitary. Whatever you choose, here are some rules of thumb.
If you wash your eggs:
- You must refrigerate them. Even if your hens are free from salmonella, once the bloom is washed away your eggs are susceptible to contamination through the shell.
- Once chilled, keep them refrigerated until use.
- Rotate stock, using the oldest eggs first. If you have many dozen at any one time, write the date for the week they were laid on the egg carton. This will help you keep track of the eggs’ ages.
If you do not wash your eggs:
- Store them on the counter in an egg rack or in a pretty egg basket.
- Always keep them dry.
- Store them pointy end down to maximize freshness.
- Rotate your room-temperature stock more regularly than you would refrigerated stock, and use the oldest eggs first. If you’re keeping them in a basket, write the date it was laid on the egg.
I use both methods—washing and not washing. Very dirty eggs get washed and refrigerated, which isn’t common. Usually, fresh eggs sit in a small ceramic egg container on my kitchen counter. We use warm eggs quickly, and they’re fabulous for baking. During the summer when laying is prolific, refrigerating makes more sense, a luxury non egg-washing countries usually don’t have.
Just like we avoid washing produce until we’re ready to eat it (to keep it fresher longer), I recommend the same for the eggs kept for personal use. An egg might look a little grubby on the outside, but it’s clean and fresh on the inside as long as the bloom is intact.
How do you prefer to store your eggss?