Egg Washing & Refrigeration

Did you know that the eggs we see on supermarket shelves and even farmer’s market displays are strictly regulated by how they’re washed, dried, and sized before they can be legally sold? Would it surprise you to learn that said standards are considered unacceptable in the European Union (EU)? This post takes a skeptical yet rational look at what the USDA deems legally acceptable egg handling methods.

Because USDA

“Believe it or not, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) graded eggs would be illegal if sold in the UK, or indeed anywhere in the European Union (EU). It’s all to do with the fact that commercial American eggs are federally required to be washed and sanitized before they reach the consumer.”

Nadia Arumugam, Forbes

“The USDA requires producers to wash eggs with warm water{…} then dried to remove excess moisture. This last step is crucial because bacteria cannot penetrate a thoroughly dry egg shell. Add a thin layer of moisture, however, and not only is there a medium that promotes bacterial growth, but the water also provides an excellent vehicle for pathogens such as salmonella and other critters to pass through via the tens of thousands of pores on the surface of the egg shell.”

On the surface this theory seems to have my best interest as a consumer at heart. But upon further reflection my simple mind reasons that if we’re concerned about porosity of the egg shell we would want to keep the bloom, which acts as a natural sealant, intact. Wouldn’t a few errantly flung drops of water or wet fingerprints be enough to compromise the bacteria barrier? Are we really better off washing-away the naturally protective membrane?

Should you wash eggs?

It’s not necessary or recommended for consumers to wash eggs and may actually increase the risk of contamination because the wash water can be “sucked” into the egg through the pores in the shell When the chicken lays the egg, a protective coating is put on the outside by the hen. Government regulations require that USDA-graded eggs be carefully washed and sanitized using only compounds meeting FDA regulations for processing foods.

So don’t wash the eggs because it increases vulnerability to bacteria, but the USDA already mandated washing by the producer which removes the “protective coating”? Got it! …Actually I’m confused now.

Why should eggs be refrigerated?

“A cold egg left out at room temperature can sweat, facilitating the movement of bacteria into the egg and increasing the growth of bacteria. Refrigerated eggs should not be left out more than 2 hours.

One of the first things that sticks out to me is that nowhere in this link is the egg bloom mentioned. The concepts dance around the issue, even flirt with such a membrane’s existence, but the USDA is careful not to mention it. Shady.

What’s in a Bloom?

“Moving finally into the vagina, a 2-inch (5.1 cm) area, the fully formed egg enters the cloaca and the vent, and is laid. When the egg is laid, the pores are filled by the matrix material and covered by the cuticle. Cuticle, which is sometimes erroneously referred to as “bloom,” is of a chemical composition similar to the shell membrane.”

“The “bloom” is a natural protective layer that coats eggs. It seals the pores to reduce moisture loss and prevents the development of bacteria. This keeps eggs laid by healthy chickens fairly safe from disease and remains intact until the egg is washed. For backyard chicken owners and small farms here in the U.S., the bloom allows eggs to spend some time unrefrigerated without significant risk. Because large scale egg producers cannot effectively monitor the health of individual chickens, the USDA has established stringent rules that require eggs be thoroughly washed before distribution. Potential bacteria is removed, but also that protective layer, making refrigeration important, if not essential.

“Washed or not, eggs will stay fresh longer when kept cold. It is believed that one day refrigerated equals a week in the fridge, in terms of freshness. Because many commercially sold eggs take weeks to reach the grocery store, the need for refrigeration becomes even more apparent.”

“There is a simple test for determining whether an egg is still fresh enough to eat. Drop an egg in a bowl of cold water. Fresh eggs will sink, “bad” eggs will float.”