Really. The rest of the world doesn’t do this.
“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.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
November 16, 2011, 10:14 pm
I would love to see some scientific reference to this. I did an exhaustive search (ten seconds, but I was pretty exhausted when I started) and could find nothing that said that eggs needed to be refrigerated once they were refrigerated. We have always refrigerated our eggs (chicken, duck, goose) simply because they seemed to last longer. Outside the fridge they sometimes went bad (eventually). Inside the fridge they would eventually become dehydrated, but I have never had an egg go bad.
With our ducks and geese, we could never be sure how old the eggs were to start with, and they were often found in the brook so were already effectively refrigerated.
The only reference I found in my very short search was from the USDA which said “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. ” But there was another comment that they should always be refrigerated, and the USDA is anal about everything except actually inspecting what they are supposed to inspect. I also found some blog type comments that guessed that commercial eggs are washed and therefore the protective layers (pun intended) are removed.
Of course, in the US, we have huge factory type environments for raising many of our egg laying hens, which may have an affect on the safety of the eggs.
November 17, 2011, 4:06 am
It probably depends on temperature, etc, but generally, how long can you keep eggs at roomtemp before they spoil?
November 17, 2011, 8:33 am
We leave our eggs out in the coop for a few days sometimes before bringing them in but usually only when its cold out. I had always heard that the reason for refrigeration wasnt that they had to be but only to reduce the chance that any egg contaminated with salmonella would be allowed to become a petri dish for the salmonella (cold would keep the colony count low) and therefore not get you sick or very sick if you did eat it.
November 17, 2011, 4:46 pm
We live in North Africa and often have eggs sitting around for several weeks. The main thing is that some of the egg white can evaporate through the shell. This doesn’t make them bad (and also means that even an egg that floats is not necessarily bad). But if not much of the egg white is left, sometimes the eggs taste strong, or you need to use double the number which means you get a lot of the yolk in proportion to white, compared to fresh eggs.
November 17, 2011, 8:46 pm
all this talk is getting me eggcited
November 17, 2011, 8:58 pm
A few years back I worked on a fish processing vessel off of the coast of New England. I could not believe it when I found out the eggs that I ate every morning (And believe me, working sixteen hours a day, I ate a lot of eggs) were stored in a forward storage area that was around 65 degrees Fahrenheit constantly, for sometimes as long as three weeks.
Now, as you said in another comment, if there is fridge space available than the might as well go in there. If they are left on the counter overnight, I simply don’t get concerned about it like the people around me do
“I’m not gonna eat those”… GOOD! More eggs for me!
November 26, 2011, 2:44 am
haha. So true.
Just in India and I figured eggs must be big business because they were always out and never refrigerated.
December 20, 2011, 12:20 am
I lived on a boat for a while and we didn’t have refrigeration. (Well technically we did, but the amount of fuel we would have had to carry to run the still thing would have been stupid.) When we did our Atlantic crossing we had eggs the whole way. The two things we did do were, make sure the eggs hadn’t been refrigerated before we bought them and give them the slightest coat of petroleum jelly to keep them from drying out. They lasted the 30+ days of the crossing and this was in classic tropical weather, the butter was all but melting.
December 20, 2011, 9:25 pm
Back when I raised egg layers, I read an old book that talked about this stuff:
“Sodium silicate was also used as an egg preservation agent in the early 20th century with large success. When fresh eggs are immersed in it, bacteria which cause the eggs to spoil are kept out and water is kept in. Eggs can be kept fresh using this method for up to nine months. When boiling eggs preserved this way, it is well advised to pin-prick the egg to allow steam to escape because the shell is no longer porous.”
This is also called “Liquid Glass”.
December 22, 2011, 9:22 am
My Mom always said that fresh eggs did not need to be kept cold, but should be kept cool. But, to keep eggs for over a couple of weeks, to blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds. This would partially cook and seal the membrane lining the inside of the egg. I have never tried this though. Here is some info from Frontier Foods and Cooking:
The best way to store eggs without refrigeration is to coat the eggs with a non-toxic substance, sealing the pores in the shell and thereby sealing out oxygen and moisture. When oxygen is present, many bacteria can grow, thus spoiled eggs. To use lard or shortening to coat the eggs, first melt the grease and cool it till it begins to solidify again. Dip each egg in the melted grease individually and set them on a paper towel to dry. When the shortening or lard is dry on the eggs, rub the eggs with a clean towel, removing excess solid grease. Rub gently and buff each egg. Now repeat the process, before the shortening solidifies. Work fast, allowing the shortening to get almost solid before re-heating it.
Line the bottom of a flat box with a clean soft towel. Place the eggs in the box in a single layer. Cover the box with either a lid or another towel. Place the box of eggs in a cool, dry environment such as a cellar or basement. Eggs prepared this way will last up to 6 months, although I have heard people say that they have kept eggs this way for 1 year if they are kept very cool.
March 21, 2012, 12:51 am
That sounds pretty labor-intensive and unnecessary. I’m sure it’s a great method, but we’ve been raising chickens for eggs for 4 years now, I don’t refrigerate the ones I don’t wash, and when I wash any because they are particularly dirty, they’re put in the fridge. But I haven’t done that religiously, and (knock on wood) thus far I have only cracked ONE spoiled egg and it had been sitting at room temp in the summer for at least 3 weeks. I just think people are overly cautious about natural foods – including eggs. It’s true, as many on this forum have noted, that eggs aren’t refrigerated, for the most part, outside of the US.
I have also “soaked” eggs in a sink with warm water and an organic liquid soap prior to washing, and haven’t noticed any unusual flavors or spoilage. Of course we all need to be vigilant about food and egg quality and safety, but we tend to be almost psychotic about it, in no small part due to the propaganda of the federal government and their cohorts in big agribusiness and chemical/pharmaceutical industries. They want control over all food production, and they can’t obtain that with a vast population raising their own foods and banding together to share insights, knowledge, and goods. Fear is the preferred and most effective method of incremental control, whether it’s fear of those pesky organic or unpasteurized food products raised on local farms, or fear of pretend enemies lurking in every train station, airport, bus stop, or private home. Tyranny is always the result of this public opinion/propaganda strategy based on fear.
So this was a tangent, but my point is that we need to stop being so darned afraid of real food – certainly at least to the point that we lose the compulsion to put our backyard chicken’s eggs into a George Jetson space sanitizer, paint them with three coatings of shellac, boil them in oil, toss them into a Star Trek drying funnel, and seal them in an iron egg carton sealed with 10 layers of duct tape (now, who DOESN’T like duct tape???) then placed in the turbo-cooler.
Just my two cents. I’m not trying to be inflammatory but have become more frustrated and even alarmed at how fearful people have become about natural, traditional foods raised and harvested on small local farms when the ONLY sources of bacterial contamination reported in the last decade or two were FACTORY farms.
- March 21, 2012, 12:51 am
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