Friday, January 2, 2015

Reasons to NOT refrigerate fresh eggs

Did that title just say to NOT refrigerate eggs? Isn't that unsanitary??? I'm also going to tell you not to wash them. Don't leave just yet- I'm not crazy, and have very good reasons for this advice!

Guess what? When I got back yard chickens, I learned something that I had literally never heard of before- NOT refrigerating eggs! For anyone living in the United States, this idea is shocking, but for the rest of the world, it is old news.

First, let me tell you why Americans DO refrigerate eggs. Eggs can carry salmonella, and storing eggs at room temperature is the best environment for it to multiply. But storing them at room temperature is not the source of the salmonella, just the growing environment. Where does it come from?
Salmonella is significantly more likely (as in, off the charts) to appear in eggs from: 
1. Large flocks of hens (thousands of them)
2. Unsanitary conditions (such as cages stacked on top of each other)
3. Close quarters (usually about 1 square foot of space per chicken)

As it turns out, most of the eggs produced in the United States meet all three of those conditions. Because the eggs are produced in such an unsanitary environment, the eggs go through a thorough washing and bleaching process before showing up at the grocery store. This seems like a good idea considering where the eggs came from...

The only problem is that chickens lay eggs with a natural protective coating that keeps bacteria out. When eggs are washed, this protective coating is removed, making the eggs more susceptible to entering pathogens. The solution? Store the eggs in a refrigerator where the bacteria is less likely to exist. 
It seems like every solution along this track only causes another problem. If we take things back to a simpler time, the problems solve themselves, which allows me to keep my eggs out on the counter with no worries.

The Alternative
If you are raising backyard chickens and are producing your own eggs, then you probably don't have thousands of chickens. My flock is currently ten chickens, and that is way more that enough for us. As a result of a small flock, they most likely have plenty of space to peck around without sitting in each others' poop and growing diseases all day. When they do lay eggs, you are able to pick them while they are nice and clean, still having the chickens protective coating on them. If they don't need to be washed, then they can be safely stored out on the counter for a MINIMUM of 21 days.

Why 21 days? When chickens lay eggs, they lay a large clutch and then sit on them to warm them in order to hatch them. From the first egg of the clutch being laid to the last before being sat on is usually around 21 days, which means eggs were designed to last at least that long in original condition. Eggs can last longer than that, but 21 days is the minimum. 

So why are eggs on the counter better than eggs in fridge? For me, fridge space is always a precious commodity, so having a little extra is great (especially if you are getting a couple hundred eggs each month), but there is more to it than that.

You may have seen baking recipes that call for room temperature eggs. Eggs at room temperature (and especially ones that have never been refrigerated) bond with the ingredients differently and form air pockets that expand during baking which make lighter and fluffier baked goods, especially breads. This also makes a big difference when whipping egg yolks to make a meringue- definitely fluffier with room temp eggs.

If for some reason you get a few eggs that are really gross (sometimes chickens are just not careful about where they poop) then I would definitely recommend washing them and putting them in the fridge. But other than that, fight the urge to do what you've been told to do all your life, and let those natural eggs stay natural!

So what do you think? Are you willing to take the challenge with your backyard eggs?