“Eggs don’t need to be refrigerated unless you refrigerated them,” an old farmer in Maine once told me as we went about cleaning out the chicken coops.
His words were true: contrary to what American food preservation convention implies, eggs do not need to be refrigerated. All around the world, with the USA being the only exception that I know of, putting eggs into a refrigerator would be about as ridiculous as doing the same with dehydrated noodles. Most cultures on this planet do not refrigerated eggs; rather, they sit out at room temperature until used. I often eat eggs daily, I do not refrigerate them, and I neither have ever had them go bad on me nor have I noticed this happening to anyone around me.
Eggs don’t need to be refrigerated.
It is my impression that the practice of refrigerating eggs in the USA more than likely began when poultry farmers starting shipping their products across the country, rather than just operating locally. Transporting eggs in an otherwise hot truck or greatly extending the time from the farm to table may have been enough to require refrigeration. Once this happens, as the old farmer in Maine once told me, eggs need to continue being refrigerated, as being left out after the shift back to room temperature can make them go bad.
This practice of refrigerating eggs has now become convention in the USA — even for eggs that are produced locally or those that were not shipped a great distance from their production site. What is more is that I’ve observed Americans becoming repulsed when they are abroad and notice for the first time that the eggs they are being served are not refrigerated. As with most any cultural convention, they initially seem to think that the practice of not refrigerating eggs is askance, backwards, or otherwise a health hazard — it often takes a little while for them to realize that it is their cultural practice that is the odd.
People have been eating eggs for far longer than they’ve had refrigeration, and, unlike meat, I have not yet observed or heard of a method for preserving them other than refrigeration.
The American Egg Board has a different opinion on why eggs should be refrigerated though:
“The main safety concern with shell eggs is Salmonella enteritidis [SE] bacteria inside the egg. Occasionally, hens become infected with SE and deposit the bacteria in the egg as it is being formed in the reproductive tract. Eggs look, taste, and smell completely normal.” Refrigeration “keeps bacteria from growing to large enough numbers to cause illness.”
The US Egg Safety Center claims that 1 in every 20,000 eggs may contain salmonella.
I know that over 99% of the world does not refrigerated eggs, even those where refrigerators are in common household use. If one in 20,000 eggs infected people with a very serious and potentially life threatening disease, I am sure that this practice would have been altered long ago. There is also little difference between how eggs are produced in the USA and how they are produced in other industrialized countries: there are factory farms in the UK too, but they don’t refrigerated eggs. When acquired locally and un-chilled, eggs do not need to be refrigerated.