Why We Refrigerate Eggs in the United States and Other Countries Don’t?

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eggsIn the vast majority of supermarkets expanding the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan, eggs are more often than not located in the refrigerated section with other cold and dairy items like milk and cheese. However, in other countries around the world, eggs are found to be stored at room temperature with other nonperishable food items. While so many eat both refrigerated and room temperature eggs each day, why do some countries opt to refrigerate their eggs and others don’t? The answer resides within the bacteria group that is known as salmonella and how certain countries ensure that their eggs do not get contaminated with it.

To begin, it should be understood how salmonella grows and spreads within eggs. Salmonella enters eggs via one of two ways. The first is through the contamination of the egg internally prior to the hen laying it (this occurs if the hen’s ovaries have been infected) or through the porous eggshell (this occurs when the egg comes in contact with contaminated matter such as chicken manure). To prevent salmonella, egg producers in the United States focus on the prevention of the bacteria entering through the shell. Which is why the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) mandates that eggs must be washed with water at a minimum temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit and at least 20 degrees warmer than the internal temperature of the egg at the time of its washing. If it is any colder than the egg, the result could lead to a slight contraction, which would suck in the contaminated water through the shell’s pores. The eggs are also washed with a form of detergent along with a chemical sanitizer such as chlorine and are then are rinsed again and dried in order to ensure that pathogens can’t navigate their way through the egg’s pores. Finally, the eggs are sprayed with a protective coating such as mineral oil. They are then taken into a room where they are stored at temperatures at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. By keeping the eggs cold, it will more than likely ensure that any salmonella that is present will not multiply to the level that it will cause issues throughout the duration of its shelf life, which in turn keeps the eggs safe to eat providing they are cooked.

The eggs are also washed with a form of detergent along with a chemical sanitizer such as chlorine and are then are rinsed again and dried in order to ensure that pathogens can’t navigate their way through the egg’s pores. Finally, the eggs are sprayed with a protective coating such as mineral oil. They are then taken into a room where they are stored at temperatures at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. By keeping the eggs cold, it will more than likely ensure that any salmonella that is present will not multiply to the level that it will cause issues throughout the duration of its shelf life, which in turn keeps the eggs safe to eat providing they are cooked.

Even for those eggs not been internally contaminated with salmonella, it is always best to keep them refrigerated if they have previously been. Once you begin the process of refrigeration, you have to maintain it through the entire process of transfer. from farm to store. Due to the fact that if the eggs are cold and are them placed in a warm environment they are going to start sweating, which only facilitates the growth of bacteria of which can contaminate the eggs.

European countries however, rely on different methods to keep salmonella in check and at no point do they refrigerate them, due to sweating and contraction issues with drastic temperature changes. They do however, recommend eggs to be stored during transport and also by supermarkets at specific temperatures, between 66.2 – 69.8 degrees in the winter Fahrenheit (19 – 21 degrees Celsius) and between 69.8 – 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit (21 – 23 degrees Celsius) in the summer.

The European Union (EU) prohibits egg producers from washing their eggs. Shells have a natural protection from salmonella and other contaminants through a waxy substance that is known as the cuticle. The cuticle coats the shell at first as a liquid when the hen lays the egg and then dries within moments of air exposure. And when properly done, egg washing can eliminate surface contaminants, while also washing away the cuticle and its natural protection which  potentially leads to allowing bacteria to get into the egg through its pores or hairline cracks.

While both methods of eliminating external contaminants are effective, the washing technique requires that eggs are processed in a concise manner in order to be effective. If eggs are allowed to sit in dirty washing water too long after losing the cuticle, it would lead to a situation in which microbes could quickly infect the inside of the eggs. Which is precisely why the EU and others deem it far safer to simply eliminate the threat of a middleman error and just leave the cuticle on. However, by not washing the eggs at all, the occasional egg with feces and other contaminants may appear.

There are most certainly pros and cons with regards to both methods of keeping eggs contaminate free, and both of them have proven to be highly effective when they are properly implemented. However, the European method boasts a greater edge in terms of natural health and preventing people from getting sick. However, when it comes to the shelf life of eggs, refrigeration is more superior in the regard that eggs that are not refrigerated have a shelf life of approximately three weeks, while a consumer’s refrigerator are typically fresh for upwards of two months.