Day 13 – Must Fresh Eggs Be Refrigerated?

The most recent  31 Days of Living Homegrown posts have focused a lot on agriculture and our food system. So I thought it was time change it up. Let’s get back to some homesteading topics! So here we go…

Keeping Fresh Eggs on the Counter

The subject of whether or not to refrigerate home-harvested eggs is a big one among homesteaders. What is really safe and what is not? I will lay out the facts below so that you can find your own comfort zone.

But in case you are wondering WHY someone would want to have eggs on the counter, let me say this: There is a certain satisfaction in seeing those beautiful eggs every morning. It just feels “farm-y”. So I can see why people ask about it all the time. And understanding the safety zones can also help if you discover an egg of unknown age in your coop.

Charolette – Our Golden Laced Polish Chicken

So Are Unrefrigerated Home-Harvested Eggs SAFE?

Well, the truth is…

are unrefrigerated eggs safe

You actually do not have to keep fresh eggs refrigerated (if you don’t wash them). And yes, I do keep just a few sitting on the counter occasionally in a special antique bowl. They are so pretty, I just like to enjoy them that way.

What? No Refrigeration? Won’t We All Die?

Here’s the deal.

In America, we are required to refrigerate eggs because of the factory farming practices. The USDA requires that an American egg be power-washed (because many factory farm chickens carry salmonella) and this washing removes the natural layer of protection that an egg has when it is laid. The natural layer of protection prevents contamination through the tiny pours of the egg. So after being washed, a factory egg is then coated with a thin layer of oil to offer some protection from contaminants and drying out.

In Europe, no one refrigerates their unwashed farm eggs. They are naturally protected by their own coating and sold in stores unrefrigerated. If the chickens do not have salmonella, the egg stays safe but will eventually go bad with time in a natural way. And since your backyard flock should not have salmonella, you can do the same.

So yes, you can keep home-harvested eggs out of refrigeration FOR SHORT PERIODS OF TIME as long as you DO NOT wash off the protective coating. Take them from the hen to your counter without rubbing or scrubbing. Then wash them just before you are ready to use them.

Am I Sure?

Maran Chicken Eggs

Look, I went to culinary school and I went through food safety certification through the extension service when I studied to be a Master Food Preserver. I took all the food safety courses. I know full well the science behind food poisoning via the egg. We were taught never to let an egg stay out beyond 4 hours. And that is absolutely true – for factory farmed, store bought eggs.

But after studying all the facts and talking to other homesteaders and farmers AND seeing for myself how farm fresh eggs are handled in Europe. I feel okay sitting a few of MY eggs out on the counter for a week at a time. My chickens are healthy and no one in my family is health compromised (which would make it too risky). You need to decide for yourself based on your situation.

Now A Few More Points:

  1. I am not suggesting that you keep those eggs on the counter for months. I know many who do this. But for me, 1 week is within my comfort zone. Keep in mind that a room temperature egg will go bad faster than a refrigerated one. I believe a counter egg will keep well past 2 weeks, but for me, if it looks like it is going to be longer than 1 week before use, I refrigerate.
  2. I would NEVER do this with store bought eggs because they are washed and probably contaminated.
  3. Would I do this with farm fresh eggs from the farmer’s market? Perhaps. IF I new the farmer and could be assured that his flock is healthy. But for me, it is the fact that the eggs came from my hen that make me feel confident in keeping just a few on display on my counter.
  4. Here is a link to a pinterest pin with info on testing an egg for freshness. Handy to know!

Egg Skelter:

I have noticed that for some homesteaders the idea of displaying eggs can be a big deal. In Europe, it is very common to use an egg skelter for this. What is a skelter, you ask? 

An Egg Skelter is a way of storing your eggs so that the first ones IN are the first ones OUT. Chicken owners know that it can get confusing as to which are the oldest eggs you have collected. It is best to have some sort of system.

Well, this little stand keeps it organized for you. It is meant to be used on the kitchen counter and does not fit inside the refrigerator very well. I searched for weeks for one here in America until I finally discovered one from Manna Pro. (And no, I do not get anything for mentioning this company. I just wanted to share the link of where I found one.)

So what about you? Do you keep your eggs at room temperature?

This post is part of the 31 Days of Living Homegrown. Sign up for my newsletter (weekly or monthly) so you don’t miss any of the inspiration and resources I will be sharing for living local, fresh and homegrown! 

 

About the Author

Theresa Loe is the Co-Executive TV Producer and the On-Air Canning/Homesteading Expert for the national PBS gardening TV series, Growing A Greener World. She is a lifetime canner and a graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program. She studied both sustainable horticulture and professional culinary arts and she is a wrangler of chickens and two teenage children. (Not necessarily in that order.) Click here to download her FREE CANNING RESOURCE GUIDE of favorite must-have sources for preserving the harvest.

{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Kara January 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I keep mine in the fridge but only for two reasons: one, I have very limited counter space and two, I have a dog who is obsessed with eating whole eggs!! I have heard that once you do refrigerate an egg, you should keep it in the fridge, and not go back and forth between fridge and counter storage.

    Reply edit
  • Carolyn January 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    My eggs usually stay in a basket on the counter for a few days (because I’m lazy) before I put them in the fridge. And in the past I’ve found nests with a bunch of eggs in it that were 3 or 4 days old… in 90 F heat… and they were fine. I think people get scared about eggs because they are unfamiliar with HOW chickens reproduce in a natural environment. A chicken lays 1 egg a day until her nest has 10 to 12 eggs in it. That means the first egg is 12 to 14 days old when she finally sits on the nest and starts to incubate. For a healthy well-fed chicken it’s common for all 12 eggs to hatch. What does that mean? It means that the 14 day old egg was not only viable after 14 days in the elements but also without bacterial contamination that would surely kill the embryo. So if it’s still viable after 14 days then it’s definitely edible.

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  • TeresaR January 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    We keep them in the fridge for convenience. We sometimes get poopy eggs that we have to wash and so those have to go in the fridge anyway, so we may as well keep all of them in the fridge so that we know the approximate vintage of them and can eat them in that order.

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  • Stephanie January 18, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I just found an egg in the garden yesterday. One of my hens has taken to laying in a big pile of dry leaves behind her coop (!)) where it’s apparently very comfy to her. The egg may have been sitting out there for a few days, I’m not sure. I took it inside and put it in the fridge but am not sure if I can eat it or if I should discard it. Eggs are so limited now with the shorter days and two hens who are finishing up molting, I hate to waste it! Any advice? (Love your blog! Just discovered it recently – thank you!)

    Reply edit
    • theresa January 18, 2013 at 8:22 am

      I agree Stephanie! You don’t want to waste it.

      Here’s the thing:
      1) It should be fine unless we were dealing with really hot weather. I don’t know where you are, but I doubt it is hot in your backyard right now.

      2) You can “test” the egg to see if it is really, really old (which would mean it is starting to spoil). Here is a link to a pinterest pin that gives all the details on how to do a float test: http://pinterest.com/pin/110549365824192615/

      3) Chances are, that egg was only out there a few days. If it passes the float test, then when you are ready to use it, crack it into a bowl and see if it looks and smells okay. We are looking for rotting – not salmonella (which has no odor). If your hens are healthy, your only concern is if the egg is rotting (just like a rotten apple, etc.).

      Hope that helps!
      ~Theresa

      Reply edit
  • Stephanie January 18, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Great advice! We passed the float test – thank you! (BTW I am in Los Angeles like you, it’s been cool except for yesterday, but the leaf pile is in the shade so I don’t think it got too hot. It’s going to be an egg hunt in my yard now it seems!)

    Reply edit
  • Diana February 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I was born in Mexico City and there we leave chicken eggs and our bread out, but for some reason here in the USA we don’t. It surprise people when they come to my house and see that we have everything out on the counter.

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    • theresa February 5, 2013 at 11:31 am

      I think the reason the USA is so sticky about it is because of industrialized food production. We have so much bacteria in our standard food production, things just can’t sit outside on the counter without making us sick. But if we grow it (or raise it) ourselves or get it from good sources, it is not even an issue.

      Reply edit
  • Julie February 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    My question is duck eggs….. I have to wash them…they are usually dirty when picked up as ducks like to roll their eggs around in “stuff” ! So does the same rule apply to duck eggs? they have a waxy coating on them. Any ideas?

    Reply edit
    • theresa February 5, 2013 at 7:48 pm

      Hi Julie-

      I believe Duck eggs are the same. It is better to not wash them. However, since they are much more prone to being dirty, you might try using a dry green “scrubbie” sponge on them before bringing them inside the house. You know the ones I mean? It is a sponge on one side and a green scrubber on the other? You can use the green side to break off any dirty clumps and the sponge side to wipe clean. Then I would store them in a carton (with lid on) to keep the rest of your refrigerator clean. You can give them a better wash just before using.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply edit
  • .Catherine February 5, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I have a one year old so I don’t get out to check my chickens every day like I use to. And although I know this probably sounds gross, I keep poop and all on my eggs and put them in the mud room fridge in a box, because I do not want to remove ANY of the natural “bloom” on the eggs. I collected eggs one day and got to witness a hen squeezing one out. It was magnificent! And showed me first hand about the protective coating on the egg. I was surprised how fast it dried too!
    Tip: I do however find a clean spot and use a pencil (that I tied a string around and taped to my fridge) to wright the collection date on the shell. That way I get an approximate “born on” date.

    Reply edit
    • theresa February 5, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Catherine – I love the pencil and date tip. I don’t know why I never thought to do that before. I am going to do the same. Thanks so much!
      ~Theresa

      Reply edit

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