Thursday, February 16, 2017

Egg Storage

The other day, one of my friends asked me if eggs needed to be refrigerated or not.

One of the many odd or weird jobs that I have done over the years was working on a small poultry farm -- and by "small" I mean "We only had 5,000 hens laying eggs." My main job was the mixing and moving of the feed for that many chickens, but I got to help load the truck that came to pick up eggs once a week. 5,000 hens put out about 30,000 eggs a week -- that’s 2,500 dozen, or about 80 cases of 30 dozen (one standard case of eggs).

My friend asked about keeping eggs in the refrigerator because he had seen an article which stated that fresh eggs didn’t need to be refrigerated until they had been chilled for shipping. According to the article, commercial eggs needed to be refrigerated to keep them fresh but farm-fresh eggs didn’t. Like most things on the internet, the article was right about some things and wrong about others.

If You Raise Chickens
Chickens are like most birds in that they only have one opening for wastes and eggs, so there is a strong possibility of eggs coming into contact with fecal matter. Keeping the nesting boxes clean and wiping the eggs with a dry cloth is usually enough to clean them for storage. Always let your eggs cool to room temperature before trying to prepare them for storage, but do not wash them!

Do Not Wash Them
Washed eggs won’t store long without refrigeration. The FDA requires all poultry farms with over 3000 laying hens to wash and refrigerate the eggs they produce, but the European Union forbids the washing of eggs before sale. The FDA claims it is preventing about 30 deaths a year from Salmonella by requiring the washing, but washing the eggs strips off a protective layer of the shell and exposes the (now-open) pores of the shell to bacteria. It’s the washing that is the problem, and is why eggs in the US are sold in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Storage Methods
Eggs store well if you use the right methods. Here is an older but scientific test of some of them.

Water Glass
Sodium Silicate is sold as a sealant for concrete and an adhesive for firebrick, but it has also been used for years as a way to store eggs. I dug out my copy of Traditional American Farming Techniques, originally published in 1916, and it gives the same recipe as the Lehman’s link:
  1. Wash out a stoneware jar (often known as a crock)
  2. Place the eggs in the jar
  3. Cover them with a solution of water glass. 
Eggs put away in May will be available for cooking the next winter (7 to 9 month shelf-life).

Oil or Vaseline
Dipping eggs in oil or rubbing them with a coating of Vaseline seals the pores of the shell and prevents oxidation as well as bacterial contamination. Kept in a cool, dry place, oiled eggs will keep for 6 to 8 months. Wax, varnish, or any other sealant will work as well.

Packing your eggs in salt, making sure the eggs don’t touch each other or the sides of the jar, then putting in a cool, dry place will allow you to store them for up to a year. Wood ashes will also work, but tend to impart their smoky smell to the eggs.

Whether you’re trying to stockpile eggs purchased at a good price, trying to set some aside for the time your hens stop laying, or just want to play with your food, these methods should give you a starting point. I hate to see food go to waste, so knowing how to store any surplus is a good thing in my book.

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