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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.


            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.

                      1. There are practical reasons as well. Eggs keep far longer when in the fridge.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: C. Hamster

                          No egg lasts over a week in this house. No uncooked egg has been refrigerated in this house since perhaps 2002. Nor have I found it necessary to put eggs into a bowl of warm water to get them fit for cooking since perhaps 2002. Most of the eggs are cooked well, a few of them are cooked sunnyside up, and once in a while one is turned into mayonnaise. We are all still perking along just fine, thank you. Over and out.

                        2. from what i recall, and this is just unchecked memory eggs are fine, but go bad about 10 times faster than unrefrigerated ones

                          1. Thanks for all the interesting replies. I think I'll keep my previously unstored in refrigerator eggs in my refrigerator. Habits die hard.

                            1. I refrigerate my eggs. Not for safety, but for freshness.

                              A week-old egg from the fridge will have a coherent white and a proud yolk. A week-old egg that's been at room temp will tend to ooze all over the pan.

                              If I were eating eggs the day the hen laid them, refrigeration would be superfluous. But I only make it to the farmer's market once a week. And when I get eggs from the store, there's no telling how old they are. So yeah, refrigeration is a good thing.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                I was taught in school to refrigerate your eggs for freshness as this is due to the air pocket. Another way to tell is if the egg floats or sinks and if it has detoriated. Also keep eggs in the carton as eggs can absorb odurs etc.

                                1. re: wustof

                                  Eggs in cartons to impede flavor mingling? I don't know about you, but many of my egg cartons are made of extremely porous recycled cardboard. Some cartons even have holes big enough for large coins to fall through. Sorry, but I'm not buying that one.

                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                  To Alan Barnes: I can't prove you wrong, because I don't know how old the eggs are that I buy. But the unrefrigerated eggs I buy in México are much fresher than the refrigerated eggs I bought in US. Sometimes I buy a few from the local little tienda or the central market (where the temp might be 85 degrees), but usually I buy them in cartons of 1 doz in the supermarket, from a national supplier. And every supermarket has about a truckload of eggs at any one time, so it's not like they were gathered fresh that morning! The yolks and whites stand high, the yolks a nice deep gold. They are way better than US supermarket eggs. I do refrigerate when I get them home, just from habit. I'm not sure that it matters at all.

                                  1. re: MazDee

                                    Sounds like you're getting better quality eggs to begin with than what we have in supermarkets here. The difference between eggs from pasture-raised and battery-farmed chickens is huge. Having grown up raising chickens, I have to say that US supermarket eggs are a pale imitation of the real thing.

                                    But regardless of the initial quality of the egg, refrigeration will slow its deterioration. If you doubt this, it's easy enough to experiment on your own: put half a dozen eggs in the fridge and another half dozen in the pantry, wait a couple of weeks, and cook them up. Poaching makes the differences the most clear; fresher eggs will hold together, while older (or unrefrigerated) eggs tend to make something resembling egg drop soup.

                                3. Jfood appreciates all the data but alas, those guys are staying in the fridge.

                                  It is rare that they even warm to room temperature.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. When I was in the restaurant business we never refrigerated fresh eggs. They went right into the dry store room. The eggs we got were no more than 2 or 3 days old and we'd use them within the week. Room temperature eggs whip up better and probably bake better. Any eggs which we cooked or prepared like hard boiled eggs would be refrigerated.

                                    From the Los Angeles County Health Dept.
                                    "Raw shell eggs (can also be un-refrigerated under certain conditions specified in CURFFL) "

                                    The eggs you get in the grocery store can easily be a week old and refrigeration will extends whatever freshness there is.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: monku

                                      Another data point for unrefrigerated eggs. Here in (large, modern, African metropolis), there are several Western style supermarket chains, where many items (dairy, meats, etc.) are refrigerated. Eggs are not refrigerated. Stocks seem to be replenished every few days.

                                      Almost all Western expatriates shop in such stores. They are from different places (US vs Europe etc.) and probably have varying degrees of health paranoia.
                                      The non refrigerated eggs don't seem to bother them. I don't think there's any option really, unless you have your own chickens, as no store refrigerates eggs.

                                      I buy eggs ~ every 2 weeks and store them in the fridge at home, mainly because we don't use them very fast. But I have never had a problem with the eggs as they left the store.

                                      Thanks for all that information, Morganna, confirming what I had been told earlier, that eggs don't really need to be refrigerated. The US goes nuts about many aspects of food safety, and neglects others (vide recent salmonella outbreaks).

                                      1. re: Rasam

                                        yeah, don't even get me started on how much this food safety paranoia ends up costing us in weaker immune systems overall. ;D

                                    2. Just to stir things up a bit more, let me inform those who don't know, and remind the rest of you, that not only is it almost impossible to cook a cold egg properly, but that a really fresh egg is NOT what you want if you're going to hard-boil them. Trader Joe's eggs are usually quite fresh, as their prices are about the lowest around and their sales volume is very high. For this reason, if I'm going to make a batch of devilled eggs I buy the eggs several days in advance, just so that there'll be enough evaporation/shrinkage to allow the eggs to peel properly.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                        Do you think an egg poaches better if at room temp? I've not compared, since I'm usually taking it straight from the fridge in the morning to cook for breakfast. Thanks.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          Egg is not a particularly good conductor of heat, and if the white masks the yolk sufficiently you could get rubbery whites and runny yolk. You can also get rubbery and runny areas in the whites if the eggs are really cold. I prefer just-barely solidified whites and gelatinous yolk myself, whether the egg is poached or fried. For years I would come down to the kitchen and put the breakfast eggs in a bowl of warm water before I took my shower, but now I don't have to.

                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                            Thanks! So, is a runny yolk more or less cooked than a gelatinous yolk? I like mine with firmish whites (no uncooked white bits) and a yolk that oozes out.

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              Runny is less cooked. Gelatinous is semi-runny, moving towards hard. One of my favorite tricks, which relies on low, even heat (and lots of fat!), is to do sunnyside-up eggs with whites that are soft and yolks that are still translucent but not at all runny. Wouldn't have a hope of doing that if I'd started with cold eggs.

                                            2. re: Will Owen


                                              You should have pulled a Kramer from Seinfeld and took the eggs into the shower with you. :-)) Who knows, if the shower was hot enough the eggs might be already poached when you cracked them.

                                              Now that's becoming one with your food.

                                          2. re: Will Owen


                                            Jfood has made hard boiled eggs the same day as purchase. Although others have also stated that older eggs are required for hard boileds, jfood experience does not confirm that often used postulate.

                                            Just a data point, not trying to be argumentative.

                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              I'm aware of the problem with peeling too-fresh eggs and do what you do.

                                              As to how to store, I don't think anyone who believes one way on this issue is going to change their mind. It always seems highly discussed when it comes up.

                                              1. re: Will Owen

                                                Cheers to you, Will! This is the very first time I've heard a man refer to "shrinkage" as a benefit! ;)

                                              2. I keep eggs in the fridge out of habit. I buy eggs when I need them for what I'm cooking, then end up using the rest for other things just to keep them from going bad (hate tossing food).

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: Demented

                                                  Refrigeration retards bacterial growth. Most food borne pathogens are most successful at body temperature- ie Salmonella, or other enteric bacteria. Not much action will occur in the fridge.

                                                  1. re: Demented

                                                    What's the worst thing that could happen by keeping them in the fridge? Cold eggs? That's really not something that would ruin my day.

                                                    The bigger reason I keep them in the fridge is because I have room for them in there. Same with most of the rest of the food in the house.

                                                    1. re: Coconuts

                                                      Like I mentioned before, there are plenty of places in the rest of the world that don't feel a need to have vast acreage of refrigerator space. ;D Also, folks in those sorts of places usually do their shopping more frequently than is more common in larger American families. :) Just different styles is all. :)

                                                      I, too, keep mine in the fridge, because I have room for them and I don't shop that often. :)

                                                      1. re: Morganna

                                                        Another reason to keep them on the counter? You have waaaaaay too many eggs! We have laying hens, and at certain times of year, we have more eggs than could fill our fridge it seems. And as they are awaiting homes, they sit at room temp. Of course, these eggs do still have their bloom, so this is a "safe" practice (yes, yes, there is the off chance of samonella infection, I suppose, but I'm with Morganna and her home sprinkler system analogy on this one). When I bought eggs at the store, they were certainly not as fresh, had been "Washed" to remove the bloom and weaken the shell, and I had the monsterous American fridge, so that's where I kept them :)

                                                        1. re: RosemaryHoney

                                                          We used to live in a pretty rural area and I was always SO pleased when a dinner guest would arrive and the hostess gift was fresh eggs. At times like that, I'd go 'I don't think I'm in San Francisco anymore) '

                                                  2. from years of planning sailing trips and hoping to include eggs in the larder, I have read time and time again that if the eggs have NEVER been refrigerated , ie direct from the hen, then they will last. Not so previously refrigerated eggs.

                                                    1. Aloha Zuriga et all! I have had hens / eggs for several years. When a hen lays an egg there is a very VERY thin film that coats the shell. It's called the 'bloom'. This bloom protects the egg for any bacterial or micro-organism to enter. IF your FRESH eggs have been washed then obviously the bloom has been removed. This is where the term 'bloomers' derived from =).
                                                      When I was first starting I read that you DON't have to refrigerate eggs. The ratio is 1 night left on counter = 1 week in the fridge. You will need to use your eggs faster if you don't refrigerate them. Store bought eggs are usually about 3 weeks old by the time they reach your supermarket that's why you can hard boil them right after you purchase them. It is not recommended to hard boil eggs if they are fresh. The shell will stick to the white of the egg leaving you mostly yolks. To estimate the AGE of an egg do the 'float test'. Put the eggs in a large bucket / bowl with water. IF the eggs float they are okay; if they sink they are rotten! Depending on hard far down they bobble will estimate the age of an egg. So if your egg is near the bottom I would not recommend using it. IF it floats in the middle; good to hard boil. The reason the egg will sink is because inside the egg (usually the rounder part of the egg) there is an air bubble. As the egg ages the bubble dissolves making it heavier; sink. I hope this helps. Fondly ~ Liz

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: lizrod

                                                        I haven't tried this yet but some CHs recommend steaming rather than boiling eggs. And that even the freshest ones peel easily that way.

                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                          Hey Oliver! Thanks for your comment. I have not heard of that technique before but just might try it! Regards ~ Liz

                                                          1. re: lizrod

                                                            My pleasure. I need to try it also as I buy super fresh eggs from pastured hens.

                                                        2. re: lizrod

                                                          You have it backward. The older an egg is, the larger the air pocket and the more it will float. Sinkers are freshest.

                                                          1. re: phofiend

                                                            OMG! OMG! Apologies please CH's.... You're absolutely right! I should know better to wait, wait,wait for the coffee to kick in!
                                                            THANK YOU for correcting me!

                                                        3. I refrigerate the eggs I buy even though the hen who lays the egg does not.

                                                          1. If I'm not mistaken the British vaccinate their chickens from Salmonella, but I could be wrong.