How Should Chicken Eggs Be Stored?
We are all used to the idea of fresh food being clean and chilled, so surely the best method of storing eggs is to wash and refrigerate them?
The answer is ‘no’. With a bit of ‘yes’ thrown in. Although the collective knowledge of chicken keepers is vast, there is still debate about the best way to store eggs.
We’ve gathered the various ends of the argument and summarised them below. Welcome to the debate!
Unless the eggs are soiled – which is the result of mud or chicken poo in the hen house, rather than dirt deposited during the actual laying – they do not need washing. A freshly laid egg has a shell covered in a protective ‘bloom’, called the cuticle, and this acts as an antibacterial defence system. If it’s washed off, the protection is washed off too. However, if the eggs are then stored in clean boxes, this won’t be a huge issue.
Eggs with dirty shells should be wiped clean, and it’s a good idea to use these soiled ones first – mainly to keep the egg box or egg-skelter looking pretty!
Some chicken keepers keep their eggs in a refrigerator, while others believe this is unnecessary. So what’s the best advice?
There are two rules of thumb – keep them below 20°C, and keep them away from strong odours, as these may affect the flavour. Other than that, it’s really up to you.
A study was carried out in 2013 by Food Test Laboratories in England, comparing the fate of two batches of supermarket eggs. The eggs were kept for two weeks, half of them in the fridge, and the other half at room temperature.
The eggs were tested for ‘usual suspect’ bacteria such as salmonella and listeria, at the beginning of the experiment and two weeks later. The results demonstrated why there is such divided opinion on the issue, as neither sets of eggs showed any signs of bacterial nasties, inside or out.
It’s the cuticle ‘bloom’ that keeps the eggs fresh and bacteria-free. If you’ve had to wash them, it’s probably a good idea to refrigerate them, as the shells will not be protected. Keep them in boxes on the fridge shelves, rather than in a fitted plastic egg tray in the fridge door (formerly a regular feature in new refrigerators).
Eggs don’t like being shaken, as it causes the egg whites to deteriorate and turn slightly watery. An egg that’s shaken by the constant opening of the fridge door is likely to lose its binding qualities in baking, and will look very sad, flat and watery in the poaching or frying pan. Fridge doors are the warmest part of the appliance too, and the area of the fridge where temperature fluctuates the most, which isn’t ideal for egg storage.
Egg basket or box?
Eggs kept outside the fridge can be stacked in boxes, with the oldest ones in the topmost boxes. This age factor is less easy to sort out if you keep the eggs in a wire basket, although these look great on display. Some chicken owners use colour coding dots, or even dates, to sort the young from the old. If you’re unsure about relative age, you can always use the traditional ageing method: place the eggs in a bowl of water, and watch how they sit. Very fresh ones will lie flat on the bottom, while older ones will have their pointed ends raised. Ones that are way past their use-by date will float.
Another advantage of egg boxes is that you can store the eggs with their rounded ends at the top. This keeps the yolks centred, which makes them look their best if you’re hard- or soft-boiling. However, if most of your eggs end up in cakes and quiches, this isn’t going to be an issue.
An egg skelter is another attractive way of storing the fruits of your hens’ labours. These keep the eggs in age-order, and they look great too.
Storing shelled eggs?
Any leftover raw egg can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container. It should be used within three days. Stored yolks should be covered in water to prevent them drying out. The water can be poured away before use.
Uneaten cooked eggs (i.e. hard-boiled) will always leave an ‘eggy’ whiff in the fridge. This is caused by hydrogen sulphide, a gas that forms when eggs are cooked (you’ll notice it’s never present in raw eggs). Although not exactly pleasant, the gas is harmless. Eggs stored in this way should be eaten within one week.
So, the main takeaway here is that eggs can be stored wherever you want them to be stored. As long as you keep them away from heat, strong odours and too much shaking, you’ve got the storage conundrum cracked!