How to Wash Fresh Eggs
Posted on: September 29th 2021
Did you know the United States treats eggs differently than other countries when it comes to washing eggs?
Federal regulations require washing these foods before selling them in the U.S., but the practice is uncommon elsewhere — meaning people may do the chore at home. Why is the United States so different? Should you clean your store-bought eggs again? The answers may surprise you. Here’s everything you need to know about washing your favorite breakfast food.
Should You Wash Chicken Eggs?
If you’ve gone shopping anywhere else in the world, you will immediately notice that eggs do not appear in the refrigerated section as they do here in the States. Because eggs aren’t washed in most other countries, they do not spoil as quickly when stored at room temperature. Pre-washing prevents eggs from being safe at room temperature — which explains why other countries keep eggs on the counters, rather than the refrigerated section where you’ll find them in the United States.
This difference in the evolution of egg storage and treatment likely arose from variations in how different nations prevent salmonella. In the U.S., once an egg is washed, it must remain refrigerated until eaten. Constant refrigeration prevents salmonella bacteria from reproducing. If chilled eggs reach room temperature, condensation likely forms on the shell, which can breed mold and mildew. At room temperature, any bacteria inside the egg will multiply and ruin the edibility of the contents. Thorough cooking, however, will kill any bacteria inside.
So why are Australia, Japan, Scandinavia, and the United States the odd ones out when it comes to washing eggs? Other nations have a long cultural history of storing eggs without refrigeration. During the 1970s, Europe outlawed producers from washing eggs before selling them. In the 1990s, Japan began cleaning eggs after a salmonella outbreak. While most European countries do not pre-wash eggs, producers have other ways of preventing salmonella, such as through vaccinating chickens.
The United States also vaccinates chickens and uses washing as additional protection against salmonella in eggs. At Sauder’s, we test our flocks for salmonella one time more than required by the federal government for an added layer of safety.
In the United States, pullets — young birds — must come from parents free from salmonella. At Sauder’s, we test the farm two to three times during the life of each flock to verify there is no salmonella in the environment. If we do find this bacterium, we test the eggs to ensure our eggs do not have salmonella in them.
Washing the shells causes problems because it removes the exterior bloom that keeps bacteria out and moisture in. Leaving this part intact allows those in countries that don’t wash their eggshells to avoid constant refrigeration. The bloom seals the shell’s pores and protects it from bacteria, while having vaccinated chickens also helps ensure the chickens do not produce salmonella during the formation of the eggs.
Because washing remains a cultural norm in the United States, unless you have access to a chicken farm, you cannot get unwashed eggs. Keep your eggs continuously refrigerated and follow food safety and handling rules to ensure you keep yourself and your family healthy.
What Is an Egg Bloom?
Chickens know how to naturally care for their eggs. After all, the hen must sit on them until they hatch, and the chick inside needs protection from bacteria and moisture loss. Bloom has nothing to do with flowers and everything to do with protecting the growing chick. Freshly laid eggs have a cuticle around them called the bloom. This covering naturally protects the embryo inside from exposure to dust, moisture loss, and bacteria that could get through the porous shell.
When producers wash eggs to sell in the U.S., the process completely removes the bloom, also known as a cuticle, from the surface. The government requires washing the bloom off because it also removes some topical dirt and germs from the shell. A sanitizing spray removes any bacteria left after washing the exterior.
When you get rid of the bloom, the interior can dry out, and bacteria can get inside through the shell’s pores. T help prevent bacteria from growing, eggs require refrigeration.
Often, people see this dirt removal process as making an egg perfectly safe to eat even without cooking. However, since eggs do not have an airtight seal within their shells — and regardless of whether producers remove the bloom or not — it is recommended that you thoroughly cook the whites and yolks to prevent potential illness.
As consumers, we frequently look for pristine exteriors as evidence of quality inside. However, the outer appearance of an egg does not always have a direct correlation to the size or flavor of the yolk or white and the quality of the egg.
Common Washing Misconceptions
Yes, washing food can help reduce illnesses in many cases, but washing eggs does not always result in such benefits. Due to many misconceptions about this practice, some people are afraid to eat freshly laid eggs from the nest because they don’t know how to wash them. Luckily, if you buy your favorite breakfast foods from a store, they already have been cleaned — but washing does not make them completely safe from bacteria or spoilage. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about washing fresh eggs:
1. Washing Prevents Foodborne Illnesses
Washing most foods helps to cut the chances of foodborne illness, but this is not the case with eggs. Salmonella is a bacteria that may appear inside the hen’s ovary. The yolk and white form around the bacteria, taking the germ with them. A completely intact shell can still hold inside germs that can make you sick. Occasionally, the chicken waste on the ground can contaminate the exterior, which is why washing the shell may help in a handful of cases.
Removing these bacteria on the outside can reduce the chances of salmonella. Encouraging consumers to refrigerate eggs, which prevents the bacteria inside from growing, also helps cut illness incidences. In Europe, where shell washing is not the norm, the hens have vaccines to prevent them from contracting salmonella, but producers in the United States also vaccinate their chickens in addition to washing their eggs. Both methods help prevent outbreaks, but American producers’ shell washing is not a cure-all to stop all chances of food-borne illness.
Washing does not get rid of salmonella that is already inside the yolk or white. In fact, removing the natural bloom from the shell increases the chances of other bacteria infiltrating to the yolk and white. Because additional bacteria can get through porous shells, you must refrigerate washed eggs until ready to use. Thanks to the precautions taken by American egg producers — proper farm management and using salmonella-negative pullets — salmonella-positive farms have dropped to under 1% of farms, and eggs with salmonella do not enter sales channels.
To ensure all the bacteria cooks out, heat until the whites and yolks are firm. Any food containing eggs as an ingredient should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This group includes cookies, cakes, puddings, meatloaves, salads, and sauces. Go for pasteurized products if you have recipes that require not cooking to this temperature — such as smoothies.
Salmonella can cause severe symptoms, especially for the very young, old, and those with weak immune systems. Even if you don’t have a severe case of this illness, you will still feel miserable. For four to seven days, you could experience abdominal cramping, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. Most people will recover without antibiotics. However, you should go to your doctor if you have a high fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, vomiting for more than two days, bloody diarrhea, or signs of dehydration. Also, talk to your doctor if you have a compromised immune system or other condition that could make any illness a more serious medical concern.
Preventing this condition is preferable to living with serious gastrointestinal symptoms for a week. Washing eggs before selling them is one way producers help keep you safe. But you also have to do your part by cooking these foods thoroughly. Washing your hands when handling them can also help to knock out any salmonella bacteria.
2. Washed Eggs Stay Fresh Just as Long
While you may think washing shells keeps eggs fresh longer, the opposite is true. When producers remove the bloom, the porous shells allow moisture to evaporate from the interior. Bacteria outside can also seep into the white and yolk, contaminating them. By being more open to bacteria, washed eggs can spoil much faster at room temperature than unwashed ones.
When producers remove the bloom, freshness decreases unless you keep them refrigerated. Because refrigeration extends the life of this food, you cannot keep eggs at room temperature for more than two hours to prevent bacteria, like salmonella, from growing. Kept refrigerated, your carton of eggs will last up to 50 days, but their unwashed counterparts kept at room temperature only stay fresh for 21 days.
The washing does not make a significant difference in preventing salmonella growth. The refrigeration does by slowing the growth of any microorganisms and extending the lifespan of the shell’s contents.
As with many other foods, proper storage conditions ensure the freshness and safety of eggs. Washing bloom from the shell increases the food’s overall delicacy. You can no longer keep them at room temperature. The high humidity of a refrigerator helps keep moisture inside. Chilling these foods reduces bacterial growth, which is especially important for preventing the salmonella that could still be inside the washed eggs.
3. The Shell Prevents Contamination
The shell does not protect the interior as much as you’d think. The natural bloom around the shell seals the outside, keeping bacteria out and moisture in.
When washing, producers must use federally approved soap because the egg’s shell has tiny holes that can allow whatever cleaners used to remove the bloom to get into the white. Approved cleaning agents do not have odors.
The water temperature also plays a part in what the shell absorbs. Producers must use water at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the interior, usually between 90 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm water combined with the soap helps clean the eggs.
Individual farmers, who sell their eggs at local markets instead of major grocery stores, may use a bleach dip as a means of further sanitizing the shells after washing. Use one tablespoon bleach per gallon of warm water and rinse immediately after dipping the eggs. This low ratio of bleach will kill off any remaining bacteria without affecting the flavor or smell of the eggs. Refrigeration further prevents bacteria from getting inside while preventing any microorganisms inside from replicating. This method used by home egg farmers differs from the sanitation method used by commercial producers. On commercial farms, the eggs use either a low-ppm chlorine rinse solution or UV light to disinfect the exterior of the eggs.
Due to the porous nature of the shells, when you refrigerate eggs, keep them away from food with a strong odor. Eggs should not be kept above the required 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep your eggs on a shelf inside the fridge instead of on the door compartment. Because you open and close your fridge door frequently, the eggs could experience temperature fluctuations and spoil faster.
4. Dirty Shells Can’t Be of High Quality
The amount of dirt on the shell does not correlate to the quality of the white and yolk inside. The FDA grades eggs based on several factors separate from the appearance of the shell. Weight, air cell size, yolk and white quality, size, and overall quality determine the grade in addition to the cleanliness of the shell after washing.
AA is the highest grade — with pristine shells, clear whites, small air cells, and slightly defined yolks. The next grade, A, comes in the middle with a larger air cell between 1/8 and 3/16 inches deep, well-defined yolks, firm whites and clean shells. B-quality can have some minor stains on the shell, as long as they don’t take up more than one-sixteenth of the shell’s surface. In this grade, whites may have a watery texture instead of firm and the yolks have a clear outline. None of these grades permit completely broken shells though the USDA allows for 4% to 5% of the egg to have cracks when packaged and up to 7% at the store.
Over time, the contents of the shell will degrade. AA grade tend to be younger, fresher varieties. The size of the air cell grows with time, and because AA grade have the smallest air cells, they are also the youngest. Aging drops the grades to A and finally B for saleable products.
Dirt has less of an effect on unwashed shells because the bloom keeps the shell sealed and protected from bacteria in the dirt. If the shell does not have cracks that break the inner membrane, a little dirt on a shell with its bloom intact will not affect the final product. Unless you eat eggs outside the United States, though, you will not encounter unwashed eggs because producers wash all eggs sold in the United States.
How Egg Producers Clean Their Products
The federal government outlines procedures for chicken farmers to follow for washing, sanitizing, and storing eggs. These steps ensure all farmers properly clean off the shells. Like other chicken farmers, our producers at Sauder’s Eggs carefully follow these methods to make sure you get high-quality, clean eggs whenever you grab one of our products.
Washing eggs improperly can cause more contamination than it removes. Because the chances of introducing new germs into the shell is so high, producers must follow every step of the process exactly. Producers do not tolerate mistakes in the washing and processing of their products, which helps you feel better about the food you buy. Here are the steps farmers follow when washing their eggs:
1. Wash With Warm Water
Using warm water for cleaning prevents the liquid portion from contracting inside the shell and drawing bacteria and dirt inside. This scenario can happen when cleaning with cold water. To avoid such a situation, washing water must be at least 20 degrees warmer than the interior of the egg, a minimum of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer.
The washing water must be clean enough to drink. It cannot have too high of an iron content. Maximum iron levels for the washing water are 2 parts per million. To prevent contamination, farmers use fresh water whenever every four to five hours.
2. Use the Right Detergent
Farmers choose a detergent that works well with the warm water. To keep the eggs tasting their best, they won’t use detergent or soap that will impart unnatural flavors or scents. The porous shell will absorb any odors or tastes from the detergent.
3. Sanitize After Washing
To sanitize the shells, producers mix a sanitizing solution into the rinse water. The water used for rinsing must have a slightly warmer temperature than the washing water. To have a properly disinfecting rinse spray, the chlorine content must fall between 50 and 200 parts per million.
4. Dry the Shells
Thoroughly drying the shells prevents the formation of mold and bacteria. Excessive moisture does not create an ideal storage environment in the packaging, as elevated temperatures may allow bacteria to grow in the container.
5. Optionally Apply Food-Grade Mineral Oil
Not all producers will apply food-grade mineral oil, but a minority do. This optional step recovers the shells with a hydrophobic layer that acts similarly to the original bloom. While the mineral oil adds an extra bit of protection from moisture loss, it does not prevent salmonella, and eggs still require constant cooling from harvesting to the kitchen.
6. Chill Out
While pre-processed eggs can take mild temperatures, farmers must store washed eggs at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, with humidity levels between 70% and 85%. The high humidity helps prevent them from drying out, and the low temperatures stop bacteria growth. Your refrigerator at home should maintain similar conditions to get the longest life from your store-bought foods.
Find Our Clean, Farm-Fresh Products Near You
With more than 80 years of experience in the business, we know what it takes to produce the freshest, cleanest, best eggs. We work closely with farmers to bring you high-quality eggs you can feel good about feeding to your family. Because we take our products seriously, we’ve already taken the hassle out of preparing your eggs by washing them before you buy them.
You don’t need to worry about cleaning them yourself. Just keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to use them. The hardest part of the process for you is choosing which of our great recipes you want to use your eggs in.
Find the best products from Sauder’s Eggs today — use our store locator to find your nearest location.