Why do Americans refrigerate their eggs?

If you live in North America, you’re probably used to finding your eggs next to the milk in refrigerated containers and behind glass doors in the supermarket. But if you live in, or have ever traveled over to the United Kingdom (UK), you may be a little lost. Nestled somewhere in the aisles amongst other non-perishable items, like canned goods or cake mix, you will find the eggs.

Why are American eggs refrigerated and European ones not? Is one more or less safe than the other?

Are the eggs you eat there the same that you eat here?

No matter where you live in the world, the answer is yes. Sort of. Technically speaking, eggs are the same in that they all have whites, eggs, yolks and shells. (For more on what the differences between brown and white shells, click here.) Apart from that, they’re different.

Breaking it down: North American eggs

FACT: United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) graded eggs would be illegal if sold in the UK, or anywhere in the European Union. This is because American eggs are required to be washed and sanitized before arriving in grocery stores. British eggs are not—but more on that later.

The USDA requires that eggs must be washed with warm water that is at least 20°F warmer than the internal temperature of the eggs and at a minimum of 90°F. The eggs must also be rinsed with a detergent that won’t impart any foreign odor, and sprayed with a sanitizer to remove any bacteria before drying.

The USDA will consider an egg adulterated (and therefore unfit for sale or consumption) if it is found to have any poisonous or deleterious substances, or any pesticide chemicals unfit for eating. Additionally, the USDA monitors food and color additives unfit for human consumption. Adulterated eggs can also include any product that has filthy, putrid or decomposed substances; has been prepared, packaged or held in unsanitary conditions; was subjected to incubation; has a compromised container; has been intentionally subjected to radiation or if any valuable constituent has been omitted or abstracted.

Breaking it down (part two): European eggs

Laws in the European Union (EU) mandate that Class A eggs (found on supermarket shelves) must not be washed or cleaned in any way. Mark Williams, chief executive of the British Egg Industry Council, told Forbes: “The understanding is that this mandate actually encourages good husbandry on farms. It is in the farmers’ best interests then to produce the cleanest eggs possible, as no one is going to buy their eggs if they’re dirty.”

Additionally, EU officials say, washing procedures may do more harm than good.

To fridge or not to fridge?

First, the USDA’s thoughts: Keeping processed eggs at a consistent temperature is the key here, at about 45°F or lower.

Brits also agree that eggs should be kept as a consistent temperature: 69.8–73.4°F in the winter and 66.2–69.8°F in the summer. Farmers in the UK have also been vaccinating their hens against Salmonella since the late 1990s, as some bacteria can make its way inside the egg before the shell is formed. Conversely, the U.S. does not do this, by and large, citing cost as their reason.

Research has shown that eggs containing the pathogen can be kept at room temperature for up to 21 days without much change in the growth of cells. After 21 days, eggs become contaminated. Additional research proves that keeping eggs in the refrigerator prohibits the growth of bacteria for a considerably longer period of time.

Long story short? Despite the USDA’s thorough guidelines and cleaning conditions, consumers are not 100% safe from Salmonella and should store their eggs in the refrigerator, just in case.

For more information on egg safety, click here.

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