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Should eggs be refrigerated?

I notice there is a story (right side of page) about refrigeration of eggs. Living most of my life in the U.S., (and Always keeping eggs in the refrigerator), I was astounded to move to the UK and find that eggs in supermarkets are sold from a normal, non-refrigerated shelf.

That said, I don't see hordes of British people running to the hospital (or elsewhere) with salmonella poisoning.

So what is the real answer??

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  1. It's really a factor of over-protection brought to you by the same folks that once told you to cook your pork until it turned to shoe leather and cook your turkey until it resembles the dusty bird carved on the table in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. In other words, the US Gov't.

    There are lots of things that the US government does good (regulating foods so that disease doesn't enter the US) and lots of things that make little or no sense, especially when it comes to food (look at the peanut butter scare as of late). The food laws in Europe and elsewhere in the world are far more lax than they are here in the US and that's part of the story. Salmonella will grow far less quickly in refrigerated eggs than it will in eggs that are left at room temperature. Eggs will also last much longer when refrigerated than they will when held at room temp. So if the question is, should you or should you not refrigerate your eggs... well that's up to you. If it were me (and I lived in an area where eggs were sold at room temp) and I planned on keeping a dozen eggs for a period of 2 or more weeks, well then I'd absolutely refrigerate them. If I bought them at room temp and expected to cook all of them within a couple days, then I'd leave them as is and be just fine. So there is no real answer, just different practices, different rules/laws, and different expectations.

    At least that's my take on the subject!

    1. That's right. "...(we) don't see hordes of British people running to the hospital with salmonella" - so let's all stop refrigerating our eggs.
      Well, I guess that's settled.

      1. I would be wary of eggs that sat out unrefrigerated for any length of time, but have also seen them unrefrigerated in other countries, including outdoor markets in France. I always play it safe and refrigerate them. I lived in the UK for a while and was surprised to find that people stored butter and cheese in their pantry but unrefrigerated. The butter did not go bad enough to actually make you sick but it sure tasted "off" and was unappealing. And the cheese, especially soft cheese, goes bad much faster.

        By the way: there used to be very good reasons for cooking pork to well done when trichinosis was a real concern, which it no longer is because of safer practices for raising and slaughtering pigs.

        4 Replies
        1. re: City Kid

          Current health threats or past ones, the USDA absolutely, undoubtedly, 100% inflates the cooking temperature of ingredients just to be safe.

          And a "by the way" from me: Walk into any Whole Foods store and take a gander at all the unrefrigerated cheese... in the US.

          1. re: HaagenDazs

            Interesting you should mention Whole Foods. Here's a link to their recommendations, which may be helpful to others, on buying dairy products, cheese, and eggs and proper storage at home. All belong in the fridge with the exception of some hard cheeses that do not require "constant refrigeration," so I assume Whole Foods refrigerates them at the end of the day.

            http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/nutri...

            1. re: City Kid

              You're probably correct with the refrigeration issue (WF refrigerates things overnight) but also know that these suggestions are written on a corporate we page for all to view and a safety blanket has been laid over all of this. Not saying that I don't agree with many of the items listed, but it shouldn't be viewed as an ultimate authority (not that I should be either, mind you!)

              1. re: City Kid

                After three years of quarterly visits to my wine/cheese shop by the local county Dept of Health Inspector, a day-long food handling course, and attendance at an American Cheese Society conference....... I can state rather confidently that most (if not all) health department codes require that cheese be kept at 41 degrees fahrenheit and may be out of that refrigeration for no more than 4 hours at a time. This is a continual source of irritation to cheese retailers as most cheeses do not taste well when that cold and also will not really go bad (especially hard cheeses) if out longer.

                I don't know how Whole Foods has worked this out with their local inspectors but they must have, somehow. I've also been in the Beverly Hills Cheese Store and seen all their cheeses out all day, so there must be some rational inspectors in the field.

          2. The short answer to your question is that eggs do not need to be refrigerated, and keep for a surprisingly long time without refrigeration. The reason for the rules in the US is we are a much more litigious culture than most places in Europe.

            Here's the long answer:
            Eggs are only dangerous if the chicken that laid the egg was sick with an illness that would pass on inside the egg itself. Healthy chickens do not produce unhealthy eggs.

            The inside of an egg that has no cracks is a sterile environment, and the shell protects it from microbes. Over time, the innards will eventually break down because of the natural action of enzymes and proteins and such getting old, but that's not the same as microbial infection.

            Feces will get on the outside of eggs (completely unavoidable, eggs come out near where the birds poo from), and there are bacteria that live in feces of all animals and humans, some of which can grow and become harmful. So it's important that eggs get washed before use, to keep the yuck from getting into whatever you're cooking when you -break the egg-. Eggs will keep longer if you don't wash them until the point of use, but they are less aesthetically pleasing, so most people will give eggs they get from their own chickens a rinse off before storing. Eggs that are mass produced are washed then coated with a thin layer that replaces the natural coating that washing them removes.

            Any eggs from a healthy bird will keep for a good while and be perfectly edible being stored on the counter instead of the fridge. If you have chickens of your own or you buy smaller quantities of fresh eggs at the market two or three times a week, and use them up in that time, then there's no reason to store them in the fridge.

            The vast majority of birds in the large, mass produced egg facilities are healthy birds. Overall the rate of actual contamination in eggs is very very low, and usually only constitutes a small threat to the elderly, young children, or adults with compromised immune systems. Healthy older children, teens, and adults have little to fear from the egg supply in the US.

            You can reduce even further any possible threat by simply buying your eggs from local farmers who have healthy flocks. Or raising your own! The eggs are less handled, are fresher, probably taste better, and will last longer than the mass-produced eggs you get at, say, Costco. They are, however, a fair bit more expensive, to boot.

            Quoting the CDC on salmonella in eggs (http://www.cdc.gov/NCIDOD/DBMD/DISEAS...):
            Most types of Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds and are transmitted to humans by contaminated foods of animal origin. Stringent procedures for cleaning and inspecting eggs were implemented in the 1970s and have made salmonellosis caused by external fecal contamination of egg shells extremely rare. However, unlike eggborne salmonellosis of past decades, the current epidemic is due to intact and disinfected grade A eggs. The reason for this is that Salmonella enteritidis silently infects the ovaries of healthy appearing hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed.

            Although most infected hens have been found in the northeastern United States, the infection also occurs in hens in other areas of the country. In the Northeast, approximately one in 10,000 eggs may be internally contaminated. In other parts of the United States, contaminated eggs appear less common. Only a small number of hens seem to be infected at any given time, and an infected hen can lay many normal eggs while only occasionally laying an egg contaminated with the Salmonella bacterium.
            {end quote

            }

            The operative word here is "MAY be infected". One egg in every 10,000 in the North East (I live in the North East) is a very small occurrence rate. I am a healthy adult with no immunity issues, so I have no problem having the occasional soft-boiled egg or over easy egg. However, I usually use egg substitute when making egg nog just because I want to reduce my fat intake and I'm just looking for the protein. :)

            Hope this helps put some perspective on this issue for you.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Morganna

              You sound like someone who really knows eggs, but if there is any question of safety -- which there is -- I don't see the downside of an ounce of prevention by refrigerating.

              1. re: City Kid

                If you have a small fridge like is typical in homes in Europe, then eggs take up a fair amount of real estate. If you have a US size fridge, then usually it's less of a space issue. So there are situations where keeping eggs in the fridge is impractical for some people.

                The probability of an outcome times its cost or benefit is the actual cost or benefit.

                On the one hand, the probability of getting an egg that has salmonella inside it is 1/10000 (to keep it simple, there are actually chances of different levels of infection, and if you cook it thoroughly, it won't infect you, etc.).

                So if you compare the benefit of not refrigerating eggs vs. the risk of infection, the comparison is not
                "would I rather not refrigerate eggs or get sick"
                it would be
                "is the benefit of not refrigerating eggs equal to 1/10,000th of how bad it would be to get sick".

                That's why you don't have a fire sprinkler system in your house. A fire would be devastating in all ways but the probability of one is not high enough. If it were "compare the cost of installing the sprinkler system to the cost of replacing your house" it would be a no-brainer "yes", but once you multiply in the probability of losing your house the balance tilts.

                1. re: Morganna

                  Good analogy.

                  One addition I can make is that we're assuming that the (potentially infected) eggs are going to be eaten raw or semi-raw state, like sunny side up eggs. If an infected egg is cooked, the bacteria is killed.

                  1. re: Morganna

                    Some states were requiring sprinklers in newly constructed homes. I think that law was short lived.

                2. re: Morganna

                  I don't know why I didn't think about this before but I've always hesitated making royal frosting and other things with raw eggs, even carbornara, since children/senior citizens will eat them but if I wash the outside of the egg before breaking the eggs, it would reduce the chances (not that 1 in 10,000 aren't small odds to begin with) of their getting sick? Also, I still separate the eggs w/ the shell so I should stop that, too. I already buy eggs from small local farms so I shouldn't be losing sleep over this but it's not about my health.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Well, if you're not in the North East US, then the 1 in 10,000 doesn't even apply to you, there's even LESS of a chance of having an infected egg. Also, I just use my fingers to separate eggs. :) Open it up and dump it into my hand, cradle the yolk in my fingers and let the white slip through to the container below. (clean hands, of course) Works like a charm.

                    As for the outside washing, that's really not as much of an issue these days. The eggs get washed pretty thoroughly if they're mass processed, but it can't hurt at all if you want to take the extra step (so long as you wash it at the time of use, not days before).

                    1. re: chowser

                      If you're getting your eggs from someplace other than a factory farm, the chickens laying them are almost certainly healthier than battery-farmed hens, and thus much healthier and less likely to lay an infected egg in the first place. There's no way to know the odds of getting a salmonella egg from a small producer, but it's vanishingly small.

                      On the other hand, my experience is that not all small producers wash their eggs thoroughly. That's a good thing - it preserves the coating on the shell that protects its contents - but the flipside is that you may have bacteria on the outside. I mean, we are talking about something that came out of a chicken's, well, you know.

                      Sounds like you're on track to the best of both worlds - healthy eggs from healthy chickens that you clean yourself. Safer than the commute to work, for sure.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Thanks, you two. I don't worry about it for myself but more for little ones. There are far more dangerous things to worry about in the world, putting in perspective, like falling in the shower and breaking your neck, really.

                    2. re: Morganna

                      Ummm, ever get a rotten one that's been missed in the gathering? I'm talking real farm eggs of course.

                      I purchase mine locally and have had the odd bad one on cracking. I'm not concerned about bugs, but more about keeping my eggs in good condition and not having to pitch them. So, yes, into the fridge.

                    3. Refrigeration doesn't hurt them as far as I know. You just want them to be room temperature for certain recipes. Baking, for example.

                      If you don't like to refrigerate, then buy only enough eggs that you'll use in 3 to 4 days.