If you’re an American, you probably store eggs in the refrigerator – and wouldn’t think of doing it any other way. There is a lot of controversy about storing eggs in the fridge to prevent salmonella poisoning. And many say that American eggs are particularly susceptible to these bacteria because of the way chickens are raised and eggs are cleaned/washed.
In much of Europe, for instance, eggs are often stored right on the counter, at room temperature.
European egg marketing regulations state that storing eggs in cold storage and then leaving them out at room temperature could lead to condensation, which could promote the growth of bacteria on the shell that could probably get into the egg as well.
So, despite what you may have heard, eggs that are fresh and have an intact cuticle do not need to be refrigerated, as long as you are going to consume them within a relatively short period of time.
Most grocery-store eggs in the US should not be left unrefrigerated because they’ve had their cuticles essentially washed off. If your eggs are fresh from the organic farm, with intact cuticles, and will be consumed within a few days, you can simply leave them on the counter or in a cool cupboard.
When it comes to minimizing salmonella infections, American producers focus on the eggshells, which could get sullied with organic matter, such as chicken feces. The USDA requires producers to rinse, dry, and mist the eggs with chlorine before sending them to market.
Europeans, on the other hand, focus on inhibiting salmonella infections in the hens themselves.
If an egg is infected with salmonella, the bacteria will multiply more quickly if the egg is stored at room temperature instead of in the refrigerator, particularly if they’re stored for longer than 21 days. This is why, in the US, public health agencies advise keeping your eggs in the fridge.
And the truth is, the way most eggs are raised in the US – in industrial concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs – the risk of salmonella contamination rises.
In CAFOs, egg-laying hens are often crammed into tiny quarters with less space to stand upon than the computer screen you are looking at. Disease is rampant, and the birds ARE filthy — not because of their nature, but because we have removed them from their natural habitat and compromised their innate resistance to disease.
When you have eggs from tens of thousands of chickens – or more — all under one roof, there’s a good chance they’re going to get feces and other contaminants on them. The US solution, rather than reducing the size of the flocks and ensuring better sanitation and access to the outdoors, is to wash the eggs. But this isn’t as innocuous as it sounds.
As the eggs are scrubbed, rinsed, dried, and spritzed with a chlorine mist, its protective cuticle may be compromised. This is a natural barrier that comes from the mother hen that lays the egg, and it acts as a shield against bacteria.
It even contains antimicrobial properties. US egg-washing strips this natural protectant from the egg, which may actually make it more likely to become contaminated.
Industrial egg washing, by the way, is banned in much of Europe, not only because of potential damage to the eggs’ cuticles but also because it might allow for more “sloppy” egg-producing practices.
Unfortunately, since an eggshell contains approximately 7,500 pores or openings, once the natural cuticle has been removed what’s put ON your egg goes INTO your egg. Meaning, whatever the eggshell comes into contact with can cross over this semi-permeable membrane and end up in your scrambled eggs, from chlorine to mineral oil to dish soap — to salmonella.