Have you ever had one of those moments where you question something that you have been doing for your whole life?
Mark Twain is often credited for saying, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.”
When you’ve lived your whole life eating eggs from the store, then it makes perfect sense that eggs should always be washed. After all, that’s all we’ve ever seen. But on this issue, the reality is that we may be doing something wrong.
With eggs shells being porous, washing backyard chicken eggs can actually push detrimental material into the very yolk you are looking to consume.
And one of these detrimental materials is Salmonella. The CDC estimates that this particularly nasty virus causes ‘1.35 million illness, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the United States every year.”
Clearly, this is something you should wish to avoid. But before you ban eggs from your diet, understand that chicken eggs are not the only potential source for Salmonella. Everything from hamburger to pet turtles can bring this virus into your life.
### Important Note ###
The thing to know about Salmonella is that this virus generally makes its way into your body orally. In other words, if you were to handle a contaminated egg with your bare hands and then rub your mouth, you have provided the virus with the means to make you sick. But, if you were to wash your hands immediately after handling the eggs (before touching your mouth), then the route to infection has been broken.
For this reason, I always have paper towels and a bottle of hand-sanitizer in the garage to use immediately after interacting with my flock.
How Do You Clean Freshly Laid Eggs?
So now that we’ve established that washing eggs can push Salmonella from the outside of the shell to the inside of the egg, what are we to do regarding those occasional – but extremely unpleasant – skid marks?
For those who may be confused by this question, a chicken’s ‘biological plumbing’ is significantly different than mammals. For a hen, the egg is passed through the same spot as its waste. Anatomically, this ‘plumbing’ is known as the cloaca.
With the eggs traveling the same passage as the poo, there will be the occasional bit of waste residue found on the shell. Incidentally, its this residue (sometimes unseen) that carries the Salmonella.
Obviously, no one wants to eat an egg with poo on it, which brings us to the question, ‘How do I clean this?’
For eggs that are only slightly blemished, a paper towel can be used for cleaning. Gently brushing at the blemish, should remove any visual indicators of what the egg came in contact with.
For eggs that are more than slightly stained, I recommend simply disposing of it.
Once their egg motors are started, chickens will lay on a fairly reliable schedule. Because of this, we find that we often have more eggs than we can eat or even give away. And so long as we keep the nesting box clean, skid marked eggs are generally rare.
To put this in perspective, with a flock of 5 to 8 hens, we might dispose of 3 eggs (for blemishes) over the course of an entire year. That’s a small enough number for us to afford losing.
### Important Note ###
Should you spend any time on a chicken forum, you will see a wide range of advice on how to clean eggs. Things like warm water and vinegar are quite common. And while these may be legit, I do not recommend them – for reasons that I will explain below.
Does Washing Eggs Reduce Shelf Life?
Ask the average person what they know about chickens and it can be quite humorous/astounding as to what their knowledge holds. For me as a child, my limited chicken experience came from watching Foghorn Leghorn on a black and white TV.
Chickens are soo much more than most people realize. Even after raising countless birds, I am still amazed at what I am learning. And one of these amazing things is the ‘Egg Bloom’.
In an ultra-simple explanation – egg bloom is a coating, naturally supplied by the hen, that acts as a protective barrier.
When you wash an egg, this protective egg bloom is removed and by doing this, you greatly reduce the shelf life of the egg. For this reason, I recommend that you never apply any kind of fluid to the shell, as this will remove the egg bloom and provide bacteria/viruses an easier access to the shells contents.
Rubbing the shell with a disposable paper towel is your best bet for cleaning the egg without removing the bloom, as the egg bloom permeates the very tiny pores that are in the shell and is not easily rubbed out of.
Fluid, however, can easily access these pores and open things up to the countless things that are working to spoil your egg.
Do Farm Fresh Eggs Need To Be Refrigerated?
This is one of those questions that is surprisingly simple while being incredibly complex.
The primary reason to store eggs in a refrigerated environment, is to limit the ability of bacteria/viruses to spoil the egg’s contents. If your farm fresh egg has not been washed, then the potential for spoiling is very low as the protective egg bloom prevents bacteria access – in other words, there is no pressing need to refrigerate it.
However, should you apply any fluid to the shell, whereby the egg bloom is removed, then you would be wise to store the eggs in a refrigerated environment.
For us, our eggs are stored at room temperature in the pantry. This is for a couple of reasons.
First, we don’t want any blemish on the shell to come in contact with food that might be in the fridge (remember, eggs and poo come out of the same spot). Any Salmonella that is dormant in the cold fridge is sure to ‘come to life’ in the warmth of your intestines. And you don’t want that!
Secondly, having the eggs visible, allows us to keep better track of how long they have been on the shelf (I’m forever losing things in the fridge).
With regards to storing them at room temperature, it pays to understand the reproductive process of the chicken.
Chickens will incubate their eggs at around 100 degrees. Most notably, they don’t try to hatch just one egg at a time. A typical clutch for a broody hen is 12 to 15 eggs. And with hens laying, at best, just one egg a day, this means there is roughly two weeks of down time while the hen is building up the necessary number of eggs.
The average room temperature of 72 degrees is not enough for the contents of your egg to really get active. And with the egg bloom in place, you can easily leave your farm fresh egg on the shelf for 30+ days.
### Important Note ###
As to the actual length of time that you can leave an unwashed egg at room temperature, that depends on a whole host of variables. While I can not recommend eating any egg after the 30 day mark, I can tell you that I have done so without noting any difference from an egg laid just that day.
What I have noted, is that the yolks from eggs that have been on the shelf a little longer, tend to be runnier than day old eggs.
For this reason, it’s always good to thoroughly cook your eggs and if you have any concern at all, regarding potential health risks, then simply throw out the egg. Give yourself peace of mind and don’t eat anything questionable. I have little doubt that, with a little time and the right conditions, your hens will be more than happy to give you new ones!