Farm fresh and backyard chicken eggs are remarkably different from eggs you buy in stores in a number of ways! Their deep golden yolks and unique variety of eggshell colors may catch your attention first. More often than not, fresh eggs have superior flavor, texture, and thicker eggshells – all due to the higher quality of care and nutrition that small farm and backyard chickens receive over large-scale poultry operations. Last but not least, fresh eggs are not processed in the same manner as commercial eggs. This means you can wash and store fresh eggs differently than store-bought eggs.
What is the best way to store fresh eggs? Do you have to wash backyard chicken eggs? Do fresh eggs need to be refrigerated? How long are eggs good for? This article will answer all of those questions – and more!
Can I store fresh eggs at room temperature?
Yes, unwashed freshly-laid eggs from backyard chickens or a local farm can safely be stored at room temperature for several days or even a couple of weeks. We love to display some of our hen’s gorgeous collection of eggs in a wire basket or ceramic egg tray on the counter! However, this only applies to unwashed fresh eggs.
Washed eggs must be stored in the refrigerator, including those from your backyard flock or the store. If you purchase local eggs at a farmers market or farm stand, ask if the eggs have been washed and/or if they need to be refrigerated. When in doubt, store eggs in the fridge.
The Protective “Bloom”, Fertilization, & Pasteurization
During the process of laying an egg, a hen’s body deposits a natural protective coating on the outside of the eggshell – commonly known as the “egg bloom”. In more scientific terms, the egg cuticle is a layer of protein that covers the surface of the egg, effectively sealing the otherwise porous shell.
As the University of Edinburgh explains, “the cuticle prevents bacteria from entering the egg and forms its first line of defense against infection.” It is the hen’s innate way of protecting her chicks during development inside a fertilized egg. The bloom also helps to keep unfertilized eggs fresh longer, preventing both the loss of moisture and the introduction of contamination. Don’t worry, a fertilized egg will NOT continue developing on your countertop and can be treated just like other eggs.
When eggs are washed the bloom is also washed away, thus leaving the eggs more susceptible to spoiling – particularly when stored at room temperature. In the commercial egg industry, eggs are washed and also pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of rapidly heating eggs to a certain temperature and time to kill bacteria, and is required by the USDA for all commercial egg products sold in the US. It kills pathogens present at the time of pasteurization, but provides no long-term protection.
That is why it is considered a food safety best practice to store eggs that have been washed in the refrigerator – pasteurized or not, store-bought or home-raised. However, note that we are especially cautious here in the United States. In other parts of the world, it is not uncommon to store eggs at room temperature – even in grocery stores!
When to wash fresh backyard chicken eggs
In general, I recommend waiting to wash your fresh eggs until right before you use them. That is, unless they are soiled with poop, mud, or otherwise in need of a good rinse. In that case, wash dirty eggs but then store them in the refrigerator thereafter. Otherwise, avoiding washing eggs right after you collect them will extend their shelf life and freshness, whether you store them at room temperature or in the fridge. I know many backyard chicken keepers who don’t wash their eggs at all!
To wash our eggs, we simply rinse and rub them under warm water. There is no need for harsh soaps, vinegar or bleach!
Keeping backyard chicken eggs clean
To prevent eggs from getting dirtied up, do your best to keep the hen’s nesting boxes clean. Discourage sleeping (ahem… and pooping) in the nesting boxes by providing suitable sleeping roosts above the height of the nest boxes. Their natural instinct is to sleep as high above the ground as possible. Also collect eggs daily, or even a couple times per day depending on your schedule and flock size!
If your chickens are prone to laying eggs in random places, help train them where to lay by placing wood dummy eggs inside the nest boxes. They want to lay where eggs already are! Finally, change out soiled nest box bedding material as needed. We use these nesting box pads with a little layer or straw or hay on top. The straw can be changed out for a small mess, or swap the whole pad for a deeper clean.
How long can you store fresh eggs at room temperature?
Various resources say to store fresh eggs at room temperature for no more than 2 to 3 weeks. However, the recommendation doesn’t stem from food safety alone – but more so to maintain optimal eating quality. As eggs age, their protein structure degrades. This causes older egg whites to become more runny, and the yolks to stand less round and tall. Eggs stored at room temperature will degrade more quickly than those stored in the refrigerator. The warmer your home is, the more this is true. Therefore, I recommend storing eggs at room temperature for about a week – and only a few days if it is very hot and humid.
We usually keep a small collection of eggs out on the counter, both for convenience and simply to admire them. If we add eggs to the basket more quickly than we use them, we do our best to rotate the oldest eggs (after a week) into the refrigerator. We also try to consume older eggs first. Using an egg skelter instead of a basket makes it easier to keep track of which eggs are new or old.
Keep in mind that we have a small flock of four chickens, and a couple of them are only sporadic layers. Thus, this rotation method is manageable for us. If you have a large flock and ample egg supply, it may be best to store the majority of your fresh eggs in the refrigerator after collecting them.
How long are fresh eggs good when stored in the refrigerator?
Storing fresh eggs in the refrigerator significantly increases their shelf life. It is perfectly fine to store unwashed fresh eggs in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 months! Washed eggs will lose moisture and quality sooner, but may still be safe to consume within that same timeframe. Because washed eggs are more porous, it is best to store them in an enclosed container within the refrigerator to reduce moisture loss and also the absorption of off-odors or bacteria.
Once eggs are refrigerated, they should be kept in the refrigerator, washed or not. According to the USDA, “a cold egg left out at room temperature can sweat, facilitating the movement of bacteria into the egg and increasing the growth of bacteria”. Therefore, refrigerated eggs should not be left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature.
Other Tips for Storing Eggs
It is best to store eggs with their round end up and pointy end facing down. There is an air sac within the rounded end. When the air sac is on top, it acts like a little balloon of insulation and helps to reduce evaporation and additional moisture loss.
Signs of Egg Freshness or Age: The Float Test
Did your egg rotation get mixed up, or aren’t sure which eggs are the most fresh? Try the float test! Fill a glass or bowl with cool water, and gently place the eggs in question inside. The freshest eggs will lay on the bottom of the glass. Eggs that are a few weeks old will stay on the bottom but “stand up” slightly. Middle-age eggs may partially float but stay submerged. The higher the egg floats, the older it is. Full-blown floaters are considered bad to consume.
Moderately old eggs are still perfectly fine to use! Within reason, that is… I don’t suggest eating eggs that are more than a few months old, or those that completely fail the float test. Yet there are some real perks of using slightly older eggs for some things. For instance, just-laid eggs are incredibly difficult to peel. The shells stick to the whites and make an absolute hot mess out of hard-boiled eggs! On the other hand, older eggs peel much easier. We purposefully save and seek out eggs that are a few weeks old to make hard-boiled or steamed eggs.
Why are older eggs easier to peel?
You know the air sac that I mentioned within the round end of the egg? Well, as a raw egg ages, the air sac or air cell inside gets larger. As it expands, it creates a small void between the eggshell membranes and thereby also makes the hard cooked egg easier to peel. It is the same reason why older eggs float! The enlarged air sac makes them more buoyant.
Recap: Best Practices to Store Fresh Backyard Chicken Eggs
- Don’t wash the eggs until you use them, unless they’re soiled.
- Fresh unwashed eggs do not need to be refrigerated for several weeks.
- Always refrigerate washed eggs.
- Eggs will maintain a higher quality when stored in the refrigerator – washed or not. However, unwashed fresh eggs will keep the best.
- Once refrigerated, keep cold eggs in the fridge.
- Keep track of your eggs. Rotate room temperature eggs into the refrigerator once a week. Use old eggs first.
- Store eggs with their pointy end facing down.
- Older eggs are easier to peel, making them ideal for hard-boiling or steaming.
Well, that was fun. Even I learned a few new things while putting together this article, so I hope you did too! Please feel free to ask questions, and help spread important food safety information by sharing this article. Enjoy those fresh eggs!
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