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To Wash or Not to Wash Eggs

by Jamelyn

When it comes to fresh eggs, many people are unsure about whether the eggs should be washed. There are benefits to washing or not washing, depending on your use for the eggs and the condition of the eggs. Where you live can also play a role in whether it’s typical to wash farm fresh eggs.

Prior to consumption, fresh eggs can be washed in warm, not cold, water. If they are not eaten immediately, the eggs should be stored in the refrigerator to maintain freshness and limit bacterial growth. Eggs that maintain their bloom can sit out on the counter for several weeks with no ill effects.

Read on to find out when to wash fresh eggs and when it’s ok to skip the wash.

When to Wash Eggs

In instances where the egg needs to be washed, make sure to rinse in warm water. Washing an egg in cold water can cause bacteria to enter the pores of the egg shell. The water does not need to be hot, just slightly warmer than the egg. If you don’t plan to immediately consume the egg, it should be dried with a cloth or paper towel and stored in the refrigerator. It’s always best to store eggs in containers because most refrigerators today have defrost functions that reduce humidity in the refrigerator and will dry out the eggs. When storing in an egg carton, place the rounded side up, with the pointed side down. This will help to center the egg yolk by allowing the air sac, or air cell, to remain at the round end of the egg.

Eggs should be washed in the following instances:

Eggs are dirty
Eggs will be refrigerated
Eggs will be hardboiled
Eggs will be sold in the US

Eggs are dirty. When eggs are dirty, they should always be washed. For example, if there is a down feather stuck to the egg or another egg was broken nearby and got yolk on the egg. Typically, if a small amount of water would be sufficient to remove the filth and requires no scrubbing, then this is considered a dirty egg. If there is extensive filth, such as manure, on the egg, then it’s best to discard the egg.

This egg has a bit of yolk from an egg that broke nearby and a down feather stuck to the shell. It can easily be rinsed off with water, dried, and either eaten now or stored in the refrigerator for later.

Eggs will be refrigerated. Both washed and unwashed eggs can be refrigerated. Any egg that has been washed and will not be eaten immediately should be refrigerated. However, you don’t necessarily need to refrigerate unwashed eggs. An egg that is stored at room temperature will age the same amount as a refrigerated egg ages in a week. Therefore, if you will not be eating the eggs soon it’s best to store them in the refrigerator.

Eggs will be hardboiled. This is an instance where it’s optional and I don’t necessarily follow this advice at home. I don’t typically wash eggs before hard boiling them since I won’t be eating the shell and I won’t drink the water used to boil the eggs. However, I include this instance as a time to wash eggs since it will make most people have a warm fuzzy feeling to rinse off the eggs prior to preparation.

Eggs will be sold in the US. All commercially sold eggs in the United States are legally required to be washed prior to selling to consumers. If you are selling eggs to neighbors and co-workers, it’s your choice whether you will wash the eggs or not. When I give eggs to my parents or sell them to co-workers, I add the disclaimer that these are fresh eggs with the bloom still intact and they should wash the eggs prior to consumption. This way I’ve given them the information about the condition of the eggs and left it up to them on whether they would like to wash the eggs or not.

When to Not Wash Eggs

When eggs will not be washed, they should be stored similarly to washed eggs in a carton. They should be placed with the rounded side up and pointed side down. It’s good to have some type of system where you eat the oldest eggs first.

Eggs do not need to be washed in the following instances:

Eggs are clean
Eggs will be eaten soon
Eggs will not be kept refrigerated
Eggs will be scrambled
Eggs will be sold in the EU

Eggs are clean. When a chicken lays an egg, it is completely clean. It only gets dirty from the nesting box. We do not wash eggs that are clean. Since eggs are collected at least once (sometimes several times) a day, our eggs are usually very clean. I don’t see a need to mess with a good thing so I will not wash clean eggs.

A perfectly clean egg that does not need to be washed.

Eggs that will be eaten soon. If you plan on eating the eggs in the next week, then you don’t need to wash the eggs. Honestly, we’ve eaten unwashed eggs that were several months old and have had no issues.

Eggs will not be kept refrigerated. In some instances, you might not be able to keep the eggs refrigerated and it’s best to not wash them. When I sell eggs to my co-workers, I will bring the unwashed, room temperature eggs to work. If the eggs started out refrigerated at my house, then would warm up on the car ride to work. Even if there was a refrigerator at work, then eggs would then warm up again on the car ride to my co-workers’ home. I bypass all this temperature fluctuation by not washing or refrigerating these eggs. Of course, I make sure to give them only the cleanest of eggs, so there would be no reason for them to wash the eggs anyway.

Eggs will be scrambled. I don’t like to wash eggs that will be scrambled or added to baked goods. I have found from experience that it seems like the egg white is more watery if I’ve washed an egg prior to cooking. Since eggs have about 7000 pores, it’s not impossible for water to have entered the egg and made it a bit runny. Just be careful when cracking the egg so that egg shells don’t end up in your dish.

Eggs that will be sold in the EU. Eggs that are commercially sold in the EU are never washed. The eggs are stored at room temperature and then sold to the consumers at room temperature, never having been washed. The regulators in Europe understand the bloom protects the eggs from bacteria and think that it’s more risky to rinse, dry, and refrigerate eggs in case they are not kept totally dry or refrigerated the entire time before consumption.

When to Discard Eggs

In some instances, it’s best to discard the eggs instead of trying to wash them.

Always discard eggs in these instances:

Eggs are very dirty
Eggs are cracked
Eggs were on the floor in coop
Eggs have an odor

Eggs are very dirty. Eggs are laid clean, but after sitting in the nesting boxes for any amount of time they can end up with manure on them. The manure will stick to the shell of the egg and typically does not rinse off easily. For these very dirty eggs, it’s usually best to discard them instead of trying to get them clean. Some people will scramble very dirty eggs and feed them to their dogs so they don’t go to waste.

There is a bit of chicken poop on this egg and is probably best to discard.

Eggs are cracked. Sometimes eggs will end up cracked. This can happen when chickens peck at eggs in the nest boxes or the egg is laid with such force that it causes a crack in the shell. If the shell is cracked, but the membrane is still intact, you can consider scrambling the egg and feeding it to your dogs. However, if the shell and membrane are cracked all the way through and egg yolk has poured out, the egg should be discarded.

This egg ended up cracked and should probably be discarded. The membrane was not broken, so this egg could be scrambled and fed to a dog.

Eggs were on the floor of the coop. When pullets start laying eggs, they will sometimes lay them in the strangest places since they are getting used to the new bodily function. I have found eggs on the back patio, on the chicken ramp leading into the coop, on the grass outside the coop, and on the floor in the chicken coop. My chickens are no longer pullets, but they will still lay eggs in random places. If the eggs landed on a cleanish surface, like the lawn or patio, I have no problem eating the egg. However, if an egg ends up on the floor in the chicken coop, it’s best to discard. The reason for this is that there are droppings on the floor and not something that you want on your egg. The closer the egg land to the area under the roosting bars, the more manure it will be exposed to. Your best bet for these eggs is to toss them in the trash.

Eggs with odor. When an egg has that typical rotten egg smell, like sulfur, it needs to be discarded. We had a box of eggs in our mudroom go bad and you could tell by the unmistakable rotten egg smell. If you crack an egg and notice an odor it should be trashed too.

Features of Eggs that Keep them Fresh Naturally

Chickens lay eggs in a way that allows a clean egg to be laid by the chicken. Chickens have a cloaca, which is the exit for both eggs and excrement. There is a shell glad that closes as an egg makes its way through the oviduct that prevents a hen from defecating at the same time as laying an egg.

Eggs are clean when they are laid and they only get dirty from the environment in the nesting boxes. Sometimes chickens will have runny poops that can stick to their downy butt feathers. When they go into the nest box to either lay an egg or sit on the other eggs, this poop can transfer to the eggs. Some birds develop a bad habit of wanting to sleep in the nest boxes and birds lower in the pecking order will go to the boxes to hide. This is why the nesting boxes should be designed in the chicken coop for one purpose only: laying eggs.

Immediately before a chicken lays an egg, she deposits a bloom, or cuticle, on the egg to protect it from bacteria. The bloom is a clear wet layer that works to seal the pores on the egg shell, preventing bacteria from entering and moisture from leaving. This layer dries within a few seconds and helps to keep the eggs naturally fresh. When the eggs are washed and the bloom is removed, it is easier for bacteria to enter the pores of the egg.

In my experience with raising backyard chickens, I think most of the “rules” around washing eggs are more to protect producers from liability. My great-grandparents ate farm fresh eggs their entire lives and never got sick from the eggs. If appropriate chicken management techniques are used to raise backyard chickens, such as keeping the chicken coop clean and collecting eggs at least once a day, then there should be no concerns related to the cleanness of the eggs. However, if in doubt, then wash your eggs (and please don’t try to sue me!).

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