Fridge vs. no fridge, part 2: Eggs

In yesterday’s blog post, we looked at why sometimes milk must be refrigerated, while other times, it can be stored at room temperature. Today, we’ll tackle the same question, but for eggs.

Like with milk, the general trend is that the U.S. refrigerates its eggs, while Europeans are happy to store them on the kitchen counter. Why is this the case?

In part, it has to do with the way we keep germs away. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates that operations with more than 3,000 hens must wash its eggs in order to control Salmonella. Japan and Australia have similar regulations. Washing eggs removes any contaminated material, such as feathers or droppings, which may have gotten on the shells from other chickens in the facility.

The thing about washing the eggs, however, is that it removes a thin layer called the cuticle that coats the shell which keeps some bacteria out. When that layer is gone, refrigeration is necessary to inhibit the growth of bacteria that may more easily permeate the eggshell.

It’s another story across the pond, where the European Union prohibits egg washing.

“In Europe, the understanding is that this mandate actually encourages good husbandry on farms,” Mark Williams of the British Egg Industry Council told Forbes. “It’s in the farmer’s best interests then to produce the cleanest eggs possible, as no one is going to buy their eggs if they’re dirty.”

Not washing eggs also prevents the possibility of eggs being washed poorly — either with water that is too cool, or with eggs left sitting in wet conditions, which allows bacteria to seep through the shell — from hitting the market shelf.

At many European supermarkets, eggs aren’t kept in cold storage because once removed, condensation might form, creating an environment for bacteria to form and permeate.

Is either method better? Not necessarily, as both have their pros and cons. The difference, really, can be summed up as a matter of preference between ensuring food security at the collection point versus during processing.

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