The debate about whether you should wash your farm eggs or not.
When we first started getting our very own eggs laid by our chickens that we raised from chicks (a very exciting moment by the way), we looked up several resources about how we should go about handling our eggs to make them safe for consumption. We found A LOT of resources that suggested you should wash your eggs and how you should go about doing that. We took the best information we had at the time and developed routines to keep our eggs washed and as safe as possible. It wasn’t until recently that we came across a debate about whether you should wash your farm fresh eggs at all. The article suggested that it may actually be more dangerous to wash the eggs if it was done improperly (which is easy to do given all the specifics regarding water temperature, etc.). This got me curious about our own practices and whether we should be spending all our time washing eggs or if it was an unnecessary use of time…lots of time.
The argument for not washing eggs is that a clean, freshly laid egg naturally has a “bloom” on it which protects the egg from bacteria getting inside of it through small pores in the eggshell. When an egg is washed in water that is not hot enough, it can cause the contents of the egg to contract and create a vacuum which results in the egg sucking any salmonella or other bacteria that was on the shell inside the egg. Some believe that due to the potential increased risk of washing eggs improperly compared to the risk of not washing the eggs at all, that the overall risk is reduced by not washing the eggs to begin with.
If you’re thinking it sounds crazy not to wash your eggs, you should know that not all countries require that eggs be washed before selling them to consumers. In fact, Europe and other countries don’t allow washed eggs to be sold commercially to consumers for the above reasons. However, recent recommendations in Europe urged producers to strongly consider washing eggs, but they didn’t change their laws to require it. One important difference between other countries and the US is that many other countries require vaccination for salmonella in their laying hens, so they may assume that their risk is lower for having salmonella in their flock and in the resulting unwashed eggs.
Here are some stats about the amount of bacteria on eggs from the USDA:
You can reduce the amount of bacteria on unwashed clean eggs (when properly washed) by about 89%. Unwashed dirty eggs (with fecal matter on them) have about double the amount of bacteria on them to begin with than unwashed clean eggs and even if these excessively dirty eggs are washed properly, you typically only reduce the amount of bacteria on these eggs by about 47%. The amount of bacteria that is leftover on the excessively dirty eggs after being properly washed is about the same as the amount of bacteria on the clean unwashed eggs without being washed. The general consensus is that you should discard excessively dirty eggs (eggs with significant fecal matter or broken egg contents on them).
How do you know if your egg is contaminated with salmonella? You probably wouldn’t be able to tell if your eggs were contaminated with salmonella, but there are a few things you can do to prevent getting infected. First, Salmonella can be found on the egg or inside the egg (in the yolk and white), so don’t eat eggs that are cracked. Cracks in the eggs make it more likely that bacteria, including salmonella, will get into the egg. Second, cook your eggs thoroughly, until the yolk is firm. While runny yolks can be delicious, it can put you at higher risk of getting sick. Lastly, store your eggs between 35 - 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
If after reading this article you decide to go ahead and wash your farm eggs, here are some suggestions on how to do it safely.
- Appropriate water temperature for washing eggs is between 90-120 degrees Fahrenheit (Hot tap water is usually around 120 degrees.) Be sure to change the wash water frequently.
- The water temperature should be at least 20 degrees warmer than the eggs. (Freshly laid eggs are usually around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.)
- Wash off any visible dirt or feces. (Remember excessively dirty eggs should be discarded.)
- Wash eggs individually and do not soak the eggs. You can use unscented soap or detergent. (Eggs can absorb the fragrance in soap and then taste off.)
- If possible, don’t clean eggs in the kitchen sink to prevent contamination of kitchen surfaces.
- Rinse the eggs.
- Make a sanitizing solution with a ratio of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon of water.
- Dip the eggs in the solution and then rinse them off.
- Make sure the eggs are completely dry before packing them. Quickly move the packed eggs to a refrigerator set to 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit.
When you’re finished, don’t forget to wash your hands and sanitize the area where egg washing occurred.
How to identify eggs that are not safe to eat.
To identify bad eggs, many people use the egg float test, where you put an egg in water and if it floats it is generally considered bad. However, this may not be the best test to figure out which eggs you should eat or discard. After an egg is laid and cools off (compared to the hen’s body temperature) the membrane inside contracts due to the change in temperature and an air sac is formed. If the egg is incubated, the resulting chick uses this air sac to take its first few breaths before breaking free from the shell. When talking about an ordinary kitchen egg that isn’t incubated, as it ages the air sac gets bigger and this increases its buoyancy. So a floating egg may tell you if the egg is old, but not necessarily if it is unsafe to eat. A bad egg should smell bad or look abnormal. See different appearances and their meanings below.
- Egg white that is pink or iridescent (contains many colors that change depending on the angle of light like a soap bubble) = Spoiled egg that is contaminated with Pseudomonas bacteria. These are unsafe to eat and should be thrown out.
- Blood spots = This is caused by the rupture of small blood vessels in the yolk at the time of ovulation. These eggs are safe to eat.
- Cloudy white color in the egg white = This indicates the egg is very fresh. A clear egg white indicates it is a little older. Both are safe to eat.
- Light or dark yellow color in the yolk = Yolk color varies depending on the diet of each hen. Darker yolks are from eating foods with more yellow-orange plant pigments like marigold petals or yellow corn. A light yolk might be more likely if the hen eats a colorless diet like white cornmeal. The light and dark yolks are both safe to eat.
- Green ring on a hard-boiled yolk = This could be caused by overcooking or a high amount of iron in the boiling water. When scrambled eggs have this green appearance it can mean they were cooked at too high of a temperature. Eggs with the green color are safe to eat.
When selling eggs to others:
If you are selling eggs to others be sure to have the correct wording on the packaging. Also be sure to look up any licensing laws for your state. Usually this has to do with how many chickens you have and who you are selling eggs to. In Kansas, add the wording below to your egg cartons.
“Keep refrigerated at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.” (Outside of carton)
“To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.” (Outside or inside of carton)
Also, if you decide to sell unwashed eggs to others be sure it is clear that they aren’t washed so that your consumer is fully aware of the product they are purchasing.
How long can eggs be stored?
If you’re curious about how long your eggs can be stored safely, check out this awesome table I found on the USDA’s website.
Whether you decide to wash your eggs or not, I hope you found the information in this article helpful in making your own decision and in pointing you in the direction of quality resources to learn more.
Disclaimer: Our authors work very hard to find and offer accurate information from only reputable sources. You can always find our sources below our articles and we encourage you to check them out for yourselves. The above article is for informational purposes only and we will not be held liable for any actions you may take or illness that may result based on the information contained herein.