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Fat Guy

Egg storage the world over

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In the US we refrigerate our eggs. Refrigeration of eggs is so ingrained in our culture that if a carton of eggs gets left out of the refrigerator for an hour a lot of Americans will throw it in the trash.

Yet, in many countries around the world -- perhaps most of the world -- eggs are not refrigerated. They're left on the kitchen counter.

I'm interested in any scientific evidence one way or the other on this cultural difference. Are Americcans crazy to refrigerate eggs, or could the rest of the world improve its lot by refrigerating eggs?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yeah, that freaked me out when I moved to Asia. Eggs all over the place. Now I just leave them on the counter myself in the kitchen. Since my kitchen isn't heated I hardly even think about it in the winter. But imagine there must be some reason why we do refrigerate in the west.

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But it can't be the case that the rest of the world is gripped by epidemics resulting from unrefrigerated eggs. And while I could believe that the eggs in a place like Switzerland are so clean they don't require refrigeration, whereas American eggs are not nearly as hygienic, it's hard for me to believe that about, say, China.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Seeing eggs on the shelves next to canned soup and napkins in Italy did sort of freak us out too. Taking a look at those eggs in the pan though, with the brilliantly colored yolks and the way they yolks rose up so high above the whites speaks more about the differences in the eggs themselves. I don't think it's meaningful to compare how they are stored without also taking into account the differences in how they are produced.

HC

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We leave our eggs on the counter, but we may no longer be representative. Most fridges have egg-holders as sold, and I imagine most people here refrigerate eggs without even thinking about it.

Of course, I've seen people refrigerating more and more stuff that I don't (fruit, bread) and I think paranoia is rife. Real scientific evidence doesn't seem to come into this any more.

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We leave our eggs on the counter, but we may no longer be representative. Most fridges have egg-holders as sold, and I imagine most people here refrigerate eggs without even thinking about it.

Of course, I've seen people refrigerating more and more stuff that I don't (fruit, bread) and I think paranoia is rife. Real scientific evidence doesn't seem to come into this any more.

My mother grew up on a farm and they never refrigerated eggs. My Grandmother kept them in a basket hanging over the sink. I keep mine in the frige but I often leave them on the counter for most of a Saturday without a thought (if I'm doing a marathon baking session).

Fruit and bread are different. I don't keep my fruit in the frige but will stick some in there if I know I'm going to eat it that day. I just like my fruit cold; it's not about preservation or paranoia.

Some breads we just don't go through that quickly so I keep them in the frige so that they last longer (e.g. English Muffins). I eat one about every other morning and they won't keep on the counter over a nearly 2 week period.

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I also think I heard it has to do with washing off the protective coating when processing eggs in the United States. I tried to Google an answer but only came up with this unsourced explanation, though it sounds similar to what I've heard before.


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I also think I heard it has to do with washing off the protective coating when processing eggs in the United States. I tried to Google an answer but only came up with this unsourced explanation, though it sounds similar to what I've heard before.

I've done an experiment where I've left an average grocery store egg on top of my frige for a month and then cooked and ate it. It didn't have a nice rich yolk but other than that it seemed unharmed.

I realize that this is anecdotal and too small a sample size to mean anything but just thought I'd mention it.

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I was in England recently and was surprised at the difference in refrigeration philosophy. I knew people kept eggs out of the refrigerator, which I have no problem with and ate them with relish. But I also noticed most vegetables I'd definitely keep cold were left out, like bell peppers and a cut eggplant. The bell peppers were wrinkling up and I'm sure getting mushy. The eggplant was beginning to look desiccated too. Kept under refrigeration, I think you'd squeeze a few more days out of them, but it wasn't and isn't my place to say I guess. It just seemed pretty inefficient.


nunc est bibendum...

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Yea, in Italy they are sold on the shelves next to the long life milk or what have you. But I've never seen anyone store them on the counter. They always get put in the fridge.

and a side question, aren't eggs pasteurized in the US? They aren't in Italy.


Edited by ambra (log)

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Here in the UK, eggs are sold unrefridgerated, but as mentioned elsewhere, most fridges are sold with an egg tray.

Personally speaking, I keep chickens for their eggs, and also occasionally buy eggs when the hens are producing less. Neither batches of eggs go in the freezer, and are perfectly good for 2-3 weeks after purchase/laying. I don't believe it's necessary to keep them in the fridge at all

In fact, eggs keep so well at room temperature that a fertilized egg can be kept for 2 weeks before starting incubation, and still produce a live chick.

Of course, on top of this there's the whole question as to why American eggs are white, whereas British eggs are brown, but that's another story!

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For cooking purposes, is it better to use a chilled or room temperature egg? Of course, in the winter here if you leave them on the counter it might be even colder than the fridge.

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and a side question, aren't eggs pasteurized in the US? They aren't in Italy.

I don't have any figures, but judging by their share of shelf-space, the vast majority of eggs sold in the US are unpasteurized.


 

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and a side question, aren't eggs pasteurized in the US? They aren't in Italy.

I don't have any figures, but judging by their share of shelf-space, the vast majority of eggs sold in the US are unpasteurized.

I've seen eggs sold specifically as pasteurized, which seems to imply that there's a reason to mark them out as pasteurized because the other eggs aren't.


nunc est bibendum...

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But does refrigeration actually harm eggs?

Possibly not, but two things are worth considering.

Boiling eggs directly from the fridge is more likely to lead to cracking. Most cookbooks recommend bringing them back to room temperature. Why bother refrigerating them then?

Eggs shells are porous and therefore can absorb tastes from other things in the fridge. Less likely in a well ventilated kitchen shelf.

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Some points I've picked up on over the years:

1) Large-scale egg producers in North America are required to wash/sterilize their eggs before packaging and sale. That removes the natural protective coating of the egg, thus the 'need' for refrigeration. Also, we've all heard stories about how your typical grocery store egg can be a few months old by the time it's consumed, and then there's the horror stories about unsold eggs being returned to the producer to be repackaged with new expiration dates :blink:

2) In general, refrigerators in North America are huge, and refrigerators around the rest of the world are small in comparison. I keep a lot of things in the fridge that don't require refrigeration (condiments, chips, crackers, nuts, etc.) simply because the space is there, so why not use it. (If you like appliance shopping while traveling overseas as much as I do :laugh:, be sure to check out the 'American' fridge section in your favorite department store!)

3) 'Americans' (that would be me) tend to shop "in bulk", so when I buy a flat of eggs, they tend to stick around for a few weeks at a time. When trolling markets overseas, I've noted that eggs are easily bought in 6-packs (not so easy in the U.S.). If you shop often, then why refrigerate them?

4) What do we know about irradiation of eggs outside of the U.S.?

5) If you want to keep your eggs on the counter, find a local chicken farmer or grow your own chickens! (That would be my ideal...)


So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money. But when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness."

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Joe Blowe is correct--eggs are laid with a naturally protective coating. In the US, producers are required by law to wash this coating off, which leaves the porous shell vulnerable to bacteria. The eggs laid by my own hens are shiny, whereas storebought ones are matte. That's the coating.

Also, Harold McGee says that eggs deteriorate as much in one day at room temperature as they do in four days under refrigeration. Although it's tempting to keep my fresh-laid eggs out on the counter--so picturesque!--I do find McGee to be at least roughly accurate and put them in the fridge if I'm not going to eat them right away.

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I never refrigerate eggs. They aren't (as others have pointed out) refrigerated in stores in the UK; I buy small quantities (half a dozen at a time usually) often, so they are fresher, and for most purposes they work better when at room temp anyway -- not just boiling, but in cakes or mayonnaise for instance.

Quite a lot of other things I don't refrigerate. The fridge kills some vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, onions e.g.). To me, fridge cold berries lack flavour (though they may unlike tomatoes recover when warmed) and decent cheese also suffers, sometimes irreparably.

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When I went to Antarctica, the cook there told me that he was still using eggs from the previous summer. I suppose if your fresh food deliveries are around nine months apart, you need to adapt. I've forgotten how they stored them but suspect it was in the walk-in cold room.


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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Unless there are three other people." Orson Welles
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2) In general, refrigerators in North America are huge, and refrigerators around the rest of the world are small in comparison. I keep a lot of things in the fridge that don't require refrigeration (condiments, chips, crackers, nuts, etc.) simply because the space is there, so why not use it. (If you like appliance shopping while traveling overseas as much as I do :laugh:, be sure to check out the 'American' fridge section in your favorite department store!)

This is a good point. I hardly refrigerate anything at all, except for in the summer.

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Here in New Zealand, eggs are kept on room-temp shelves and the supermarket, not the chiller. I keep my eggs on the counter at home. But I don't buy them in bulk, so they don't get a chance to get old.

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I pasteurize all my eggs myself as it is simple and I don't have to worry about using them raw.

They are chilled in ice water after the pasteurization process, then dried carefully.

I mostly get very fresh eggs from a local man who raises chickens as a hobby and supplies me and a few others. If my supply runs low, I buy from a market and get the organic, free-range eggs.

I do refrigerate eggs in the summer, unless I am going to be using them within a couple of days but in the cooler months I leave them on the counter in a wire egg basket but my kitchen is always rather cool, about 60° F. I also refrigerate eggs that require chilling for a particular recipe.

I pasteurize the eggs because several years ago I had a severe bout of salmonella which required hospitalization for a couple of days and I do not want to repeat the experience. The antibiotic side effects were unpleasant.


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