The U.S. is one of the only countries on Earth that keeps chicken eggs in cold storage. But why?
Given the sanitary benefits of refrigeration, why don’t other countries ship, package, and store their eggs at cold temperatures, like we do in the U.S.?
Well, because, unlike America, they may not actually need to. Why?
Because here in America, we wash our eggs – and while it may sound counterintuitive, the cleaning process may actually make eggs more susceptible to contamination.
We mentioned above that eggs run the risk of getting feces on them. Whether that feces contains traces of Salmonella or not, it stands to reason that if an egg gets poop on it, you should wash it off. And, in America, that’s exactly what we do. In an elaborate automated process involving in-line conveyor belts, massive egg-scrubbing machinery, high-volume air-filtration systems and – last but not least – chlorine misters, American eggs are washed, rinsed, dried, and sanitized in an effort to remove as much dirt, poop and bacteria as possible, all while leaving the shells intact. (Read the details in the USDA’s Egg-Grading Manual.)
“may favour trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers, particularly if subsequent drying and storage conditions are not optimal.”
In Europe, the understanding is that [prohibiting the washing and cleaning of eggs] actually encourages good husbandry on farms. It’s 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.
Okay, fine – but then why not just refrigerate the eggs, anyway? Wouldn’t this just give unwashed eggs an extra line of defense? Perhaps, but the European Union laws again note that – like washing – refrigeration could actually wind up posing a risk to consumers. Again according to European egg marketing regulations, eggs that are stored cold and later left out at room temperatures could become covered in condensation, “facilitating the growth of bacteria on the shell and probably their ingression into the egg.” EU guidelines therefore stipulate that eggs should be transported and stored at as constant a temperature as possible – a temperature between 66.2 °F and 69.8°F in the winter and between 69.8°F and 73.4°F in the summer.