Come out of your shell: Why washing eggs is a bad idea - Upsmag - Magazine News

Come out of your shell: Why washing eggs is a bad idea

You see caked dust and dirt stuck to a fresh egg and are concerned. The fact that birds expel faeces and eggs from the same body cavity, the cloaca, probably comes to mind. Should you wash the eggs before putting them away? The answer is no, especially if they were bought from a farmer or at a shop that stored them at room temperature.

The egg shell, made from calcium carbonate, looks solid but is actually porous. This allows the growing chick inside to breathe. Porosity, while necessary, creates its own set of problems for the growing chick. Water inside the egg wants to evaporate, and microbes outside, including salmonella, want to get in. This problem is solved by a protein-rich protective coating around the egg shell, called a cuticle. Washing the eggs erases the coating and accelerates the process of the egg getting spoiled.

How about refrigerating the eggs after washing them? Refrigerating eggs, whether they are washed or unwashed, is a good practice. It slows the growth of any bacteria present on the surface of the eggs. Refrigeration also lengthens the shelf life of the egg by slowing down the rate of water loss and preventing the proteins within from breaking down.

Unwashed eggs have a shelf life of 10 to 12 days at room temperatures (about 28 degrees Celsius). Storing them in the refrigerator extends their life to four to five weeks. But if the eggs are washed, their shelf life outside the refrigerator drops dramatically. Without the cuticle, as condensation forms on the shell, moisture can permeate the shell, allowing bacteria to multiply within. Thus, if an egg is washed and refrigerated, it should then not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

This makes baking more difficult. An egg must be at room temperature to get a perfect texture when whisking or blending with butter and sugar. Even slightly cool eggs will stiffen up the butter and then the mix won’t trap air quite as well.

Now, in some countries, it’s hard to find an unwashed egg. In the US, Japan and Australia, mass-produced eggs undergo a mandatory wash with soap, chlorine or enzymes. One reason is that industrial-scale poultry farms have so many thousands of chickens in confined spaces that it raises the risk of salmonella contamination. After the washing, some companies add a coating of food grade mineral oil as a substitute for the lost cuticle. One’s best bet for unwashed eggs in these countries is a farmers’ market.

Many countries in the European Union, meanwhile, ban the washing of eggs. They would rather monitor the poultry farms more carefully and keep the original cuticle.

So, in conclusion, if your local shop sells unwashed eggs, do not wash them. Put them in the refrigerator to extend shelf life. Wipe the egg clean before use, crack it on a clean surface. Wash your hands with soap after cracking the eggs.

Whatever you do, try not to waste this precious protein source. Wild fowl, the ancestors of the chicken, used to lay only about 12 eggs a year. Through selective breeding, we have arrived at the modern, domesticated fowl, which lays about 300. In the process, we have bred out the brooding characteristics of the hen (the need to sit on the egg and protect it). We have made year-round egg-laying possible by controlling light and temperature. We have, in the words of historian and author Page Smith, converted a lively creature into but an element in an industrial process. Let us at least not squander the product secured at such great cost.

(To reach Swetha Sivakumar with questions or feedback, email [email protected])

You see caked dust and dirt stuck to a fresh egg and are concerned. The fact that birds expel faeces and eggs from the same body cavity, the cloaca, probably comes to mind. Should you wash the eggs before putting them away? The answer is no, especially if they were bought from a farmer or at a shop that stored them at room temperature.

The egg shell, made from calcium carbonate, looks solid but is actually porous. This allows the growing chick inside to breathe. Porosity, while necessary, creates its own set of problems for the growing chick. Water inside the egg wants to evaporate, and microbes outside, including salmonella, want to get in. This problem is solved by a protein-rich protective coating around the egg shell, called a cuticle. Washing the eggs erases the coating and accelerates the process of the egg getting spoiled.

How about refrigerating the eggs after washing them? Refrigerating eggs, whether they are washed or unwashed, is a good practice. It slows the growth of any bacteria present on the surface of the eggs. Refrigeration also lengthens the shelf life of the egg by slowing down the rate of water loss and preventing the proteins within from breaking down.

Unwashed eggs have a shelf life of 10 to 12 days at room temperatures (about 28 degrees Celsius). Storing them in the refrigerator extends their life to four to five weeks. But if the eggs are washed, their shelf life outside the refrigerator drops dramatically. Without the cuticle, as condensation forms on the shell, moisture can permeate the shell, allowing bacteria to multiply within. Thus, if an egg is washed and refrigerated, it should then not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

This makes baking more difficult. An egg must be at room temperature to get a perfect texture when whisking or blending with butter and sugar. Even slightly cool eggs will stiffen up the butter and then the mix won’t trap air quite as well.

Now, in some countries, it’s hard to find an unwashed egg. In the US, Japan and Australia, mass-produced eggs undergo a mandatory wash with soap, chlorine or enzymes. One reason is that industrial-scale poultry farms have so many thousands of chickens in confined spaces that it raises the risk of salmonella contamination. After the washing, some companies add a coating of food grade mineral oil as a substitute for the lost cuticle. One’s best bet for unwashed eggs in these countries is a farmers’ market.

Many countries in the European Union, meanwhile, ban the washing of eggs. They would rather monitor the poultry farms more carefully and keep the original cuticle.

So, in conclusion, if your local shop sells unwashed eggs, do not wash them. Put them in the refrigerator to extend shelf life. Wipe the egg clean before use, crack it on a clean surface. Wash your hands with soap after cracking the eggs.

Whatever you do, try not to waste this precious protein source. Wild fowl, the ancestors of the chicken, used to lay only about 12 eggs a year. Through selective breeding, we have arrived at the modern, domesticated fowl, which lays about 300. In the process, we have bred out the brooding characteristics of the hen (the need to sit on the egg and protect it). We have made year-round egg-laying possible by controlling light and temperature. We have, in the words of historian and author Page Smith, converted a lively creature into but an element in an industrial process. Let us at least not squander the product secured at such great cost.

(To reach Swetha Sivakumar with questions or feedback, email [email protected])

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