It’s all about American vs European salmonella strategies.

By Tim Nelson
November 06, 2020
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Americans have a tendency to do things a little bit differently than the rest of the world. Whether it’s our particular definition of "football," the size of our fast food orders, or just the way we write the date, there are plenty of peculiar things you can single out us Yanks for. 

One of America’s more curious culinary distinctions, though, has to be the fact that we refrigerate our eggs when other parts of the world have gotten by just fine leaving them out on the counter. Surely there has to be a good reason for that right? There’s perhaps no universal right or wrong answer when it comes to optimal egg storage, but read on to learn about why American eggs end up in the fridge while others don’t, and what it means for you.

Credit: HUIZENG HU

It Has to Do With Salmonella

When it comes to eggs, salmonella is the primary food safety concern. A type of bacteria, salmonella can cause salmonellosis, which brings with it all of the nasty symptoms we usually associate with food poisoning. The CDC says salmonellosis can last 4-7 days, which feels like it would make for a pretty bad week.

American Producers Fight Salmonella By Washing Eggs 

In an effort to cut egg-borne salmonella infections, the FDA mandates that every egg producer with flocks of at least 3,000 egg-laying hens wash their eggs before they’re sold to consumers. Methods for doing so include soap, enzymes, or chlorine. The 3,000 cutoff has to do with the fact that salmonella can often proliferate in large flocks where hens are clustered together closely, though some large producers attempt to minimize the risk of salmonella through vaccinations.

But a Side Effect of the Process Necessitates Refrigeration

While this method does keep salmonella from crossing through the shell and into the egg itself, there’s a tradeoff. Eggs have a natural protective coating (known as the cuticle) that’s meant to keep salmonella out, but this is stripped away during the washing process. Though they’re (ideally) salmonella-free once the wash is over, the absence of that crucial membrane means bacteria can still get in later on. Hence, the need for refrigeration that explains why you find eggs next to the milk in a chilled dairy case. 

So What Does the Rest of the World Do Differently?

Other parts of the globe take the literal opposite approach to keeping salmonella out of eggs. In the EU and the UK, washing eggs is actually illegal, though there’s been some discussion over the years about changing course. Instead of making eggs look nice and clean by giving them a bath before they head to the supermarket, European regulations prefer to leave the cuticle intact. With it still in place, eggs have a natural protective barrier that keeps out salmonella. 

Is There a Difference in How Long American and European Eggs Stay Fresh? 

Yes. A refrigerated egg should be good to go for about four to five weeks, while an egg left out has a shelf life of one, maybe two weeks. Of course, the tradeoff is that some regard room temperature eggs as the superior option when it comes to using eggs in batters, meringues, and soufflés, but you’ll get by just fine in either case. 

Should You Wash Eggs from a Farm Stand?

That depends. As mentioned, smaller producers who have less than 3,000 hens are technically exempt from the FDA’s washing requirement, so how they approach it is up to them. A good rule of thumb is to follow their lead: If the eggs you get from a farmer’s market are chilled, keep them refrigerated. If they’re at room temperature, you can keep them that way and give them a quick wash before cracking them open. 

What Else Do I Need to Know About (Refrigerated) Eggs? 

That you don’t need to wash them again after an American egg producer has already done it for you. If anything, washing an egg yourself without adhering to the same standards the FDA requires of producers could potentially do more harm than good, salmonella-wise. 

Yes, it is a little weird that Americans refrigerate their eggs while many other parts of the world do not. But placed in the context of what happens to eggs before they wind up at the grocery store, keeping them chilled at home makes sense. So unless you’re planning on moving across the pond or shopping exclusively at farmer’s markets, keep 'em in the fridge.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

This story originally appeared on allrecipes.com