Should farm-fresh eggs be washed?
Today's blog post comes to us from Victoria Redhed Miller, the author of the soon to be released book Pure Poultry, Living Well with Heritage Chickens, Turkey and Ducks.
Victoria is a writer, photographer and homesteader who lives off-grid on a 40-acre farm in the foothills of Washington's Olympic Mountains with her husband David. As well as raising heritage chickens, turkeys and ducks, she works towards enhancing her family's self-sufficiency through gardening, food preservation, craft brewing and distilling, antique repair and restoration, and other traditional skills. Today Victoria touches on the controversial subject of farm eggs- to wash or not, that is the question!
I would not have believed how much strong feeling this particular subject stirs up. Some people assert that eggs should always be washed, preferably sanitized too. Others insist that any washing or cleaning is somehow detrimental to the quality of the egg.
If I tell you what I think, will you promise not to send me nasty e-mails or (horror of horrors) un-friend me on Facebook? Okay, here goes. First let me say that since we got our egg dealer's license in 2008, we have been obliged to follow the guidelines of the Washington State Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Program. I have also done a lot of research on this subject, and I must say I think the WSDA's guidelines are quite sensible.
Because eggs are perishable, and under certain circumstances, subject to bacterial infection, the idea is to collect, clean, dry and refrigerate them as quickly as possible. We use warm water and an old soft toothbrush to clean them. The water should be warmer than the eggs. Why? Because the shell of an egg is porous. The theory is, if there is mud or chicken poop or whatever on the egg shell, and you wash the egg in cold water, the contents of the egg will shrink away from the shell, bringing with it anything lingering on the outside of the shell. Since some eggs have just been laid when they are picked up, and a hen's body temperature is 103°F, we try for a wash-water temperature of around 110°F.
But, you never-wash-an-egg advocates are shouting, washing the egg removes the "bloom!" I know, I know. And I am going to take my social-networking life in my hands and ask you, "So what?"
The "bloom" is a coating that is applied to the outside of the egg's shell right before it exits the hen's body. I have occasionally picked up an egg that
has been so freshly laid that it is still wet; presumably this is the "bloom." The argument I always hear is that removing the "bloom" results in a shorter shelf life. Unless that coating is somehow completely sealing the entire eggshell, I'm skeptical about this. Remember that the shell is porous; probably if it was coated thickly with wax or something, the contents of the egg wouldn't evaporate. I don't know what the makeup of the "bloom" is, but I doubt it is actually sealing the egg to that extent.
And frankly, if simple washing in warm water is enough to remove it, how well do you really think it's sealing the egg shell?
In addition, we deliver our eggs several times a week to our customers. We know they are being consumed when they are quite fresh. So honestly, shelf life is of no real concern to us.
Occasionally I see an egg that is so clean that I don't bother washing it. This is perfectly acceptable under WSDA rules. However, I rarely find an egg so pristine that it can't be improved by at least a light cleaning. I see no advantage in leaving mud, chicken poop or bedding stuck to an egg, for fear of compromising the "bloom." Since we are talking food safety here, honestly now, why take chances?