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! 

 

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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.)

{ 42 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.

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  • 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!)

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    • 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

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  • 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!)

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  • 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.

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  • 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?

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    • 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!

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  • .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.

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  • Stephanie April 28, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Please help… I don’t have my own chickens and I don’t have a clue about home growing anything. Although I love the concept and one day wish to try for my self. My dilemma is with some homegrown chicken eggs that I received as a gift. They are very dirty with poop and other questionable stuff. These eggs had been in a refrigerator because when I received them they were cold… Can I still clean after refrigeration and how?

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    • theresa April 29, 2014 at 5:37 am

      Hi Stephanie-

      Lucky you to get some homegrown eggs! The reason they are not clean is because cleaning them takes off the natural protection from bacteria. The eggs are naturally coated when they are laid. So all you need to do is give them a little wash just before using. Water and and a scrubbie work great. That’s it!

      They are just fine in the refrigerator. No worries there.

      Also, your homegrown eggs will last for many more weeks than the store bought eggs. Typically when we buy eggs at the store, they are already several weeks old. So your homegrown eggs (being as fresh as can be) will last weeks longer than you are used to.

      Enjoy and let me know how you like the eggs!

      ~Theresa

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  • Susan May 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Fresh eggs, dried poop, straw included, refrigerator kept. NOT washed until ready for use…. What would the length of time you can keep the eggs for (2 months)? I have yet to do the float or not float test. Second question, how long would you keep the fresh eggs if boiled. I get DUCK eggs and boy they r yummy. Looking at a comment made eariler, “So your homegrown eggs (being as fresh as can be) will last weeks longer than you are used to “What is “weeks longer”?

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    • theresa May 16, 2014 at 5:51 am

      Hi Susan,

      Fresh eggs will last several months. I keep mine about 3 months at a time. (I know others who keep theirs much longer, but the whites will thicken)

      Hard boiled eggs usually last 5-7 days if you keep the shells on.

      Hope that helps,
      ~Theresa

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  • Barbara O'Brien May 22, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Loved the comments on viability of free range found eggs. Just the info I needed. Glad I found you. Thank you!

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  • Tina Hogan July 2, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I just entered my question about finding 11 eggs this morning in a spot we thought a hen had quit laying & wondered if they would be good & found your website~love it ! You answered my question plus reading what everyone is sharing & you always respond. It’s like talking to a close friend~very refreshing~thank you:)

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  • julia July 7, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    We are new to homesteading with our first flock and they have JUST started laying eggs, yey! We are wondering about winter. Since you aren’t supposed to move eggs from frig to counter, wouldn’t winter be like the frig, so after collected shouldn’t they go in the frig? I’d love to keep them on the counter if I could in the winter, but then my husband thought of this question and it makes sense. Thanks!

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    • theresa July 18, 2014 at 6:08 am

      Hi Julia,

      Assuming you are collecting your eggs every day, I look at it like this: When I collect the eggs every morning, they are warm from the chicken. If they have been sitting awhile, they would have only been chilled a few hours. I do not think it would make any difference if you then set them on the counter. Remember, other countries never chill their unwashed eggs. And this may all be a mute point anyway because (unless you have artificial light in the coop) the chickens won’t be laying much in the winter anyway.

      I hope that helps.
      t

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  • Steve July 10, 2014 at 7:55 am

    I have always kept eggs in the refridgerator that I purchased from a supermarket; however, fresh eggs bought off the farm can stay on the counter for the week or two it takes to go through them (big family). That said…I DO leave any egg out of the refridgerator and on the counter for an hour or two before making breakfast. Eggs tend to stick to the frying pan easily, if ice cold…but not at all if room temperature. I HATE eggs glued to the pan. I learned that trick years ago from a chef who knows eggs, and have not had an egg stick to the pan since.

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  • Tina July 13, 2014 at 9:24 am

    I have a question that has nothing to do with whether or not eggs need to be refrigerated…but maybe you can answer it. I bought some fresh eggs from a farm that I regularly get eggs from. And the eggs are always good….no problems. Today, I crack 3 of the 12 eggs. All 3 had blood in them (and not just a speck of blood) and the yolk was broken. What was going to with these eggs?? I have tried to contact the people I purchased the eggs from…. but they are out of town for a few days,

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  • Mary Ferguson July 28, 2014 at 10:55 am

    I’m new at this but I bought fresh eggs last week and put them straight away in the fridge sense I was going out of town. Today when I took a carton out and opened it I noticed the eggs are dirty and have a lot of smeared poop on them….my question is are they ok to eat after sitting dirty….should I wash them and then continue to store them in the fridge? Sorry but this sorta freaked me out… >;/ LOL

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    • theresa July 30, 2014 at 4:34 am

      Hi Mary – I understand the freakout. We are not used to poop on eggs.

      Your eggs are fine as is. The reason they did not wash them was so that they did not remove the natural protective coating. Most of the poop can be rubbed off with a dry cloth. But some will be left behind.

      If you are going to use the eggs in the next week, go ahead and wash them now. But by removing the coating, they will dry out and absorb refrigerator odors after a week. If you want to store them for a longer time, just rub off the poop with a paper towel or cloth and then wash them just before using. The coating protects from the poop.

      I hope that helps and enjoy you yummy eggs!
      ~Theresa

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  • susan August 9, 2014 at 10:00 am

    I have been growing my own eggs since 1973. I too am highly qualified (and long experienced) in food safety, organic farming, veterinary medicine, etc. There are some inaccuracies in the information above, as follows: All birds, especially wild birds, can and do carry salmonella, which occurs pervasively (and more or less harmlessly, as with most things we fear in nature) in the natural outdoor environment. Salmonella is not manufactured at egg farms (although certainly concentrated there). This includes the sparrows in your henhouse and other wild birds; salmonella doesn’t necessarily, or even usually, make them sick. Your hens at home, especially if they are over 2 years old, are also likely to carry salmonella, because of their contact with the natural outdoors; again, they will appear perfectly fluffy and healthy, as your birds likely do. It’s true that unwashed eggs are best, and that factories wash them. However, salmonella does not enter the egg from the outside—it is already in the egg when the egg laid if your hen carries salmonella, which, statistically, she likely does. The tiny bit of salmonella naturally occurrring in a hen’s egg when it’s laid won’t hurt you and won’t multiply if the eggs are refrigerated; they do multiply at a scary exponential rate on your countertop. It’s a gamble, especially for children and the elderly or immune-compromised. To believe that eschewing the evils of factory farming somehow protects you from the realities of nature is unwise.

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    • theresa August 23, 2014 at 5:43 am

      Hi Susan,

      I think we are actually in agreement but perhaps you misunderstood me. I am well aware that salmonella is everywhere. So is botulism (which surprises people). I believe chickens at factory farms are more likely to have salmonella. They live in horrid conditions and their immune systems are compromised. You are absolutely correct that a sick bird will pass salmonella on to the inside of the egg. I said that “an egg’s natural layer of protection prevents contamination through the tiny pores”. I was talking about all outside bacterial contamination. A washed egg is more likely to make you sick from any number of bacteria. Perhaps I should have spelled that out more clearly.

      You say “it’s a gamble for children and the elderly or immune-compromised”. I say the same thing when I said, “no one in my family is health compromised (which would make it too risky).”

      So, I believe we are in agreement here.

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  • Kat August 17, 2014 at 8:32 am

    I just got my first flock of backyard chickens. I never put my eggs in the fridge. I only have three hens and I check their nesting box every day. If the eggs sit in my cupboard for more than 3 days, I will generally give them to the neighbors and tell them to use them within a couple of days (but never put them in the fridge!). Sometimes I scramble eggs after a few days and give them to the chickens (they LOVE them). If I have any cause for concern about the freshness, I do the float test when I’m ready to use them (drop them in a pitcher of water, if they float, they are thrown out). It seems counter-intuitive to keep the eggs out of the fridge but I think that’s because I’m used to eating eggs from the store. I’m slowly adjusting to eating room-temperature eggs and I’m finally over the “eew” factor of eating them from chickens I know personally. Now I am beginning to feel grossed out by the idea of eating eggs that came from birds I don’t know, living in conditions I can’t control. I could never eat anything other than fresh!

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  • Jennifer August 18, 2014 at 5:45 am

    hi, I recently bought 4 dozen eggs from a neighboring farm. They were clean and in a fridge. Came home, placed eggs in our fridge. Here is where I need advice. Went away for a week, leaving eggs. Came home to a fridge that was off. Had a storm that tripped the breaker. Can I still eat these? I hate to waste them if I don’t have to. (the eggs were for the trip but left behind)
    Thanks

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    • theresa August 23, 2014 at 5:28 am

      Hi Jennifer,

      Theoretically, yes. The eggs should be fine. But what I do wonder is if the eggs were hot during that week. If they were sitting in a closed refrigerator with the power off, they should have stayed cool for several days. But if they were closed up in a closed refrigerator for 7 or more days and the inside was very hot, then I would be concerned about eating them. I’m not sure I can give you a good answer on that one.

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  • Ginny August 19, 2014 at 11:17 am

    This is our first year raising ducks and chickens. We have 2 chickens, 4 rouen ducks and 4 white ducks. They are all in the same pen and get along (everyone has a bad day now and then :) ) We were afraid that we weren’t going to get any eggs for some reason because they were of age and nothing. Then this week we have found 2 eggs. one in the coop where it is very obvious they have been nesting (holes everywhere in the straw and dirt) and one laying out in the open on the bare ground. Two different sizes but the same shape and color. Is there any distinction between duck and chicken eggs without cracking them? and is there any harm for the eggs to have all the birds living together? We also have a pheasant but he seems to keep to himself. I didn’t know the whole not washing thing until today so I have scrubbed mine clean and they are in the fridge. I may consider leaving them out from here on based on the non-stick pan comment :)

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    • theresa August 23, 2014 at 5:25 am

      Hi Ginny – It sounds like you are going to have some wonderful eggs coming your way!

      Generally chicken eggs are much smaller than duck eggs. I would think they would be easy to tell apart, so if your eggs are very close in shape and size, they may have come from 2 different chickens. (Or two different ducks if they are large). I’m betting that once you get some regular eggs coming in, you will get to know who laid what.

      But the one thing I know for sure is…they are all delicious!

      There is no harm in the chickens and ducks living together if they all get along. I have a friend who does the same thing. No problems at all.

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