One of my favorite things about backyard eggs — besides the orange yolks, the daily discoveries, and the hilarious hens themselves — is not having to refrigerate them.
That’s right, I leave my eggs out. Sometimes for weeks.
And you know what? They’re just as fresh (if not fresher) as the eggs I used to buy and keep in the fridge.
Ever since my plucky ladies started laying, I’ve stored all their eggs on the counter in a handcrafted egg holder. It was a random find in a Mexican woodworking shop on one of our road trips to Baja.
It holds 12 eggs neatly in 12 little slots — and I’m even weird enough to display them in alternating colors!
With seven hens (one of whom only lays a few eggs a year — Iman is almost nine years old now), we get just over two dozen eggs a week and our extras are stored in a little basket on the counter.
Our family goes through them easily with our 10-egg frittatas (which used to feel like a breakfast luxury before we had chickens), egg sandwiches, and baked goods.
The eggs usually don’t sit for more than two weeks on the counter, but they also don’t make us sick.
If eggs can be stored at room temperature for that long, you may be wondering… Should eggs be refrigerated or not? And for that matter, should eggs be washed or unwashed?
Let’s delve into the surprising benefit that backyard eggs have over commercial eggs (and it’s all about poop — or lack thereof).
Refrigerated eggs are the result of mass commercialism
The United States is one of the few countries to keep its eggs refrigerated. This cultural norm emerged in the 1970s when mass production of eggs required them to travel long distances and sit in storage before arriving at your local market.
Concerns over contamination and spoilage led the USDA to require large-scale egg producers to immediately sanitize and refrigerate their eggs.
Personally, I think it’s also a result of our generally germaphobic society, and the fact that we have massive refrigerators and like to put everything in them.
Many other countries I’ve visited, from all over Central America to Europe to Asia, keep their eggs on the shelves right next to the unrefrigerated produce. And yet, their eggs will last for months.
When some of my friends learn that I don’t chill my eggs, they’re confused and caught off guard.
“Won’t they go bad?”… or “Aren’t you afraid of salmonella?”
With backyard eggs, no.
To understand how this is possible, you would first have to understand the differences between a backyard egg and a factory egg.
Why you don’t need to refrigerate homegrown eggs
The bloom is a mucous secretion that quickly dries after laying and seals the pores on the shell, making it impervious to bacteria and reducing the loss of moisture.
When moisture is lost, carbon dioxide is lost, which then speeds up deterioration of the egg.
If you’ve ever examined a homegrown egg and a factory egg up close, you may have noticed that the white (or albumen) of the backyard egg appears cloudy.
The cloudiness indicates the carbon dioxide present in a fresh egg. The older the egg, the more gas that escapes, making the white more transparent (and thus more watery or runny).
If you have backyard eggs, the ideal method of storing them is in a dry place at room temperature, around 65°F to 70°F.
This could be a pantry, a cupboard, or in my case, the counter. There is no need to refrigerate your eggs, assuming you’ll eat them within a couple of months (and even then, months-old eggs are still safe to eat, as long as they were properly stored; they just won’t cook as well).
There is also no need to wash your eggs for storage, since this will remove the bloom and make your eggs susceptible to bacteria.
I only wash my eggs right before I use them (to rinse off residual dust). If you keep the bedding in your chicken coop clean, there should be little, if any, dirt or poop on the eggshells when you collect your eggs.
So how can you ensure clean eggs?
Designate nest boxes for laying, don’t allow your flock to sleep (and poop) in them, and don’t put roosts right above the nests. Move broody hens from nest boxes if you’re not having them hatch eggs.
Clean and healthy hens produce clean and healthy eggs.
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My chickens lay on excelsior nest pads (also known as “wood wool”) and never sleep in their nests, so most of their eggs come out spotless. Any specks of dirt can be brushed off with a finger or towel.
If you find an egg very dirty, you can wash it under running water, but plan to use it right away or keep it refrigerated.
What makes factory eggs more susceptible to bacteria
USDA guidelines state that eggs should be stored at 40°F or below. This is necessary for factory eggs, which are kept in the fridge at the market and should stay in the fridge at home.
Factory eggs come from large-scale farm operations where hygiene cannot be adequately monitored. Factory eggs often end up poopy and dirty with feathers sticking to the muck on the shell.
To make the eggs palatable for the public, the eggs are washed and sanitized (with anything from chlorine to peracetic acid, depending on how “organic” the factory is), which strips them of their natural barrier and makes them vulnerable to pathogens.
Commercial packers will try to prolong shelf life by spraying the eggs with their own protective coating, usually mineral oil or vegetable oil. If your store-bought eggs appear shiny, that’s because you’re seeing the film from the oil.
By law, eggs must be processed within 7 days of being laid. By the time they are collected, cleaned, graded, packed, and shipped statewide or nationwide, those “farm fresh” eggs could already be two weeks old… and then they sit for another week or two in the store… and then another week or two in your fridge.
Eggs can be sold for up to 30 days after the date they were put in the carton. Refrigeration during this period is critical because it keeps the temperature of the eggs constant, which inhibits bacterial growth.
A cold egg left out in a warm room will sweat; its pores expand from fluctuating temperatures, causing bacteria to seep into the egg. This is true of any egg, washed or not.
For this reason, even if you have a freshly laid egg with the bloom intact, you should not keep it on the counter once it’s been refrigerated.
It’s either in or out, from farm to fork.
If for some reason you have a surplus of eggs that you can’t eat in the next few months, by all means, refrigerate them and they will probably keep for at least six months or more.
But if you have that many eggs, what’s the point of storing them? Sell them, share them, and use that space for something else!
A good rule of thumb for storing eggs is to store them in the same condition you acquired them:
- If they were refrigerated at the store, you should refrigerate them at home.
- If they were sold in the open by a family farm at the farmers’ market, you can store them at room temperature.
- If they were collected from your own coop, find yourself a cute little egg holder and proudly display them. Fresh eggs are simply too beautiful to hide away!
Egg Storage and Nesting Box Sources
Southern Homewares Black Egg Skelter | Southern Homewares Red Egg Skelter | Toplife Stainless Steel Egg Skelter | The Mammoth Design Wooden Egg Tray | Kitchen Craft Wooden Egg Holder With Carry Handles | Gui’s Chicken Coop Wooden Egg Tray | The Mammoth Design Wooden Egg Basket | ChasBete Egg Display | Spritool Chicken Egg Basket | MyGift Black Metal Egg Basket | Flexzion Egg Storage Basket | Trademark Innovations Wire Oval Basket | Trademark Innovations Wire Egg Basket | Little Giant Small Egg Basket | Hutzler Mini Garden Basket | ProLine Vintage Design Egg Cartons | Petmate Precision Pet Excelsior Nesting Pads | DP Washable Nesting Box Pads
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on April 20, 2012.