Homegrown eggs kept on the counter
Backyard Chickens

Eggs: To Chill or Not to Chill

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.

Since my plucky ladies started laying last month, I’ve stored all their eggs on the counter in a handcrafted egg holder. I spotted it in a Mexican woodworking shop on my recent road trip. It holds 12 eggs neatly in 12 little slots — and I’m even weird enough to display them in alternating colors!

Fresh eggs in a wooden egg holder

With three hens, I get about a dozen eggs a week, which the fella and I go through easily between our breakfasts and baked goods. They 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, why are we told to store them in the fridge?

The United States is one of the few countries to keep its eggs refrigerated. This cultural norm emerged when mass production of eggs required them to travel long distances and sit in storage before arriving at your local market.

I personally 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.

Eggs are permeable membranes containing thousands of pores. When a hen lays an egg, her body deposits a natural protective coating on the shell called a bloom (or a cuticle). 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 backyard 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 on the eggshells when you collect your eggs. Designate nest boxes for laying, don’t allow your flock to sleep in them, and don’t put roosts right above the nests. Clean and healthy hens produce clean and healthy eggs.

My hens lay on plastic nest pads and never sleep in their nests, so most of their eggs come out spotless. Specks of dirt can be brushed off with your finger or a 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 chilled.

A clean and healthy egg

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, you’re seeing the film from the oil.

By law, eggs must be processed within seven 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.

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 chilled at the store, you should chill 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!
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  • entagor

    Your site is wonderful. I have trouble eating store eggs including commercial organic eggs. Through the localharvest website, I found a site that sells chicken and duck eggs, non GMO non soy, by US mail. In my desperate quest, I ordered. The eggs came in 6 pack egg cartons stuffed with sawdust and wood shavings. Believe it or not, not a one broken. Not sure what to do, I washed them in coconut oil soap and water, rinsed them in cider vinegar, and coated them with coconut oil before refrigerating. Eggs looked just like yours, the yolk so yellow my french toast looks fake. Today I showed a friend your site. He grew up backwoods Ky. Said no one refrigerated eggs. One of his cousins still packs them in sawdust for long term storage. Wish I could have my own chickens but my next order, I will just leave the eggs in the sawdust, and wash them before I cook them. God bless those little birds. I never knew how hard they worked or what a difference to treat them with kindness. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for the kind words and for reading my blog. I’m glad you find it useful and that your quest in buying suitable eggs was successful!

  • SugarSnap Mama

    My daughter just got back from a trip to the Sultanate of Oman (in the Middle East). We have hens, and she was thrilled to wake up every morning in Oman to the sound of hens making their egg calls and roosters crowing. She said all of the grocery and convenient stores and even the gas stations sold eggs right out on the counter. None were refrigerated. She loved it and said she wished we did that here in the States.

    • In the States, you would only find that at a small family farm or sometimes a farmers’ market… all the more reason to support local. 🙂

  • Barbara Shaw

    how do I tell if an egg is fresh?

    • Fill a bowl with cold water. If the egg lays on the bottom, it’s fresh. If it tilts toward the surface of the water, it’s older (but still edible), and if it floats, it’s rotten.

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  • paulrevere01

    heh…me again…a friend of mine was the fire lookout for a half dozen seasons at Devil’s Postpile…she said they helicoptered in a half dozen 48 egg flats at the beginning and middle of her stay and that all they told her to do was turn the flats once a week or so, as in flip the eggs over to prevent any drying in the space above the contents.

    She had no frig so that techinque must be carved in granite…so to speak.

    • What a fun story. People tend to forget that eggs existed before refrigeration, so it can be surprising to learn how low-tech it was back in the day.

  • illberich

    commercial eggs are washed in the US, but not in Europe. our eggs are not allowed to be sold overseas, and vice versa, because of this wash/no-wash business. funny, huh!? Locally Laid Egg Company is the way to go.

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  • Skilfngr

    Thanks for this. I’m an American visiting Taiwan for a few months and I didnt understand and wasn’t going to eat my favorite food until I read this. Thanks!

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  • Sweet Georgia Shine

    OMG. Thank you for this valuable info. I have 22 birds (three are rosters, 3 seperate coop areas) some are bantams, leghorns, etc. I’m only in my early 40’s and my great grandmother still lived on a farm in the 80’s where they had no running water, heated and cooked with wood and a wood burning stove, gathered water from a well, plowed her garden with a mule, big chicken coop with the best eggs ever, milk from a cow and yes even had an outhouse. I use to go for summer visits to help her and I always felt like I stepped back into time to the better days of America where we took care and lived with our family (she lived with her 2 brothers who nevee married and my great-g, mothers husband was a police officer after WWI and was shot and killed), lived simple and lived off the land. They didn’t change because they felt there was no need. My family and I don’t live anywhere like them but I’ve remarried almost a year ago and we work and help my father in law on his almost 100 acre farm and I’m realizing what it’s like to become self sufficient and home steading. First was our chickens, now we have almost a half acre garden I want to also try and sell my product to others. My point 🙂 she always kept her eggs on the counter opposite side of the wood burning stove in a bowl covered with a floor sack dish cloth and they were always delish. I’ve been taking my eggs from my own chickens washing them and putting them in the frid. Just thought that’s what’s you do now. My husband and I are taking a candeling class next week so we will be able to sell our eggs. There I know we will learn a great deal more! BTW sorry so long and also love your blog! 🙂

    • What lovely experiences you’ve had! Sounds like they will come in quite handy with your new farm. Good luck!

  • TamiWithani

    Thank you! I go to Guatemala on a regular basis and I never understood why they don’t store them in the fridge. Now I know!

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  • Vera Greutink

    This was really illuminating! Often information concerning eggs is more superstition than science, but you explain everything clearly. I am still waiting for the day I can have my own chickens, at the moment we hire an allotment and chickens are not allowed and would be difficult to care for as it’s 5 km away. But I like to read your posts on chickens, maybe I can put the info to good use someday!

    • I read up on chickens for almost a year before I finally decided to build my coop. 🙂

  • safeword:apples

    Awesome article! I love our girls and the gifts they give to us every day. 

  • Ntamlin

    Those eggs are too pretty to hide away. Come to think of it, when I bought eggs at the grocery store in Ireland, they were located in the regular dry foods aisle, next to the bread. Lovely post, I learn something new each time!!

  • A hundred chickens! You must be drowning in cuteness!

  • Since I’m on limited internet right now, I just skimmed this but will read it in depth after I finish my Phoenix-Chicago drive in two/three days!  How interesting, though!  I just love the look of “real” eggs!

  • Great information piece re: eggs.Also neat that the hens are that productive to get 12 eggs a week.

    • Two of my hens lay 5-6 times a week, and the other one lays 3 times a week, so often we get more than a dozen. I love when I open the coop and see 3 little eggs waiting for me!

  • That’s cool that they keep that long. However, I have read that if you store them point-side down, they will keep longer (you have yours pointy-side up in the photo).

    • I use all my eggs within a couple of weeks, so storing them pointy side down is not necessary. It’s useful if you plan to store your eggs for a long time. In theory, if the membrane inside the egg stays in contact with the shell, it won’t dry out as quickly. But, that also means you would have to flip the egg right side up every few days for the membrane to contact the other end.

      Now if you were hard-boiling eggs, storing them upside down for a couple of days before you boil them would keep the yolk more centered – but that’s just a cosmetic thing.

  • Adrienneaudrey

     Wow! Who knew? Thanks for this great information!

  • Diana Ford

    This is a wonderful article! We too, have backyard chickens (well, about a hundred of them) and find that many of our customers didn’t realize that eggs don’t have to be refrigerated and how long they actually can stay fresh. And I absolutely LOVE your egg holder – now that is cool! A trick I learned about keeping your eggs is to store them pointy side down so that the yolks will stay centered. I supposed that only matters if you are going to make hard-boiled eggs though! Thanks for the great blog reading 🙂

    Diana at lilbitfarms.com in Colorado

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