Here’s Why American Stores Refrigerate Eggs While Some Other Countries Don’t

At the sight of an egg sitting on an unrefrigerated store shelf, many Americans would shudder and think, “Well, that can’t be very safe because we keep our eggs nice and chilled and America is No. 1.” But are those foreign countries wrong and are we right? How can it be safe to keep eggs either chilled or at room temperature?

The answer is all in the washing, explains NPR’s always informative The Salt (thanks for the tip, K.C.!), but everyone is basically on the same side, fighting contamination from bacteria like salmonella.

See, Americans, the Japanese, Australians and Scandinavians all wash eggs when they pop out of hens, and in doing so, scrub off a barely visible protective layer on the egg’s shell that keeps it from becoming porous and letting bad things in, while keeping water inside.

Egg producers in the U.S. then spray the eggs with oil and refrigerate them, to make up for the loss of that coating.

“The egg is a marvel in terms of protecting itself, and one of the protections is this coating, which prevents them from being porous,” food writer Michael Ruhlman, author of Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient explained to The Salt.

Many countries that used to wash their eggs also freaked out after a batch of eggs in Australia that had been bathed went rotten, starting a chain reaction against the practice. In places like Asia (with the exception of Japan) and most other foreign countries, washing is prohibited.

So which method is better? Is it more effective to vaccinate hens against salmonella, as some European countries do, or require washing and refrigeration, along with other safety measures, as the U.S. does? Both work fine as long as there’s consistency, explains Vincent Guyonnet, a poultry veterinarian and scientific adviser to the International Egg Commission.

But if you’re going to refrigerate them, it has to be from the farm to the store and everywhere in between. Once the eggs go from cold to warm, “they’re going to start sweating,” he says. Sweat can lead to mold, and that’s gross.

Eggs also stay good longer when chilled — 50 days with refrigeration and about 21 without.

“They’re different approaches to basically achieve the same result,” Guyonnet told The Salt. “We don’t have massive [food safety] issues on either side of the Atlantic. Both methods seem to work.”

Previously in important egg issues: From Gadgets To Diners: How To Make Or Order The PerfecT Egg Every Time

Why The U.S. Chills Its Eggs And Most Of The World Doesn’t [The Salt]

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