If you’ve ever taken a trip to Europe and happened to be in a kitchen, you may have noticed one key difference: they don’t refrigerate their eggs, opting instead to store them in quaint little baskets on their countertops. But here stateside, if you go to a dinner party and see your host cooking with unrefrigerated eggs, you might raise an eyebrow. So why the difference?
As it turns out, there really isn’t much of one. It’s not like Europe’s eggs are inherently safer to eat than ours! We spoke with East Hampton-based caterer and baking expert Sigrid Benedetti, who helped explain why, in fact, you do not need to refrigerate your eggs.
The Vivant: Where does the idea come from that we Americans have to refrigerate eggs?
Sigrid Benedetti: The reason that we’re told to refrigerate our eggs is because there’s a fear that the bacteria can grow at room temperature. But if you look at how the eggs are treated beforehand and the anatomy of the egg, [you’ll see that’s not really the case].
Generally, is there bacteria that we should worry about?
We [in America] really have a pretty strict washing and sanitizing process going on with regards to the outside of the eggs. They are washed and handled very carefully, and they are rigorously cleaned and sanitized. To me it seems like that they do a lot to make sure that the outside of the egg is not going to be contaminated.
Also, there’s no reason a person at home can’t sanitize their own eggs: just use two tablespoons of bleach to a gallon of water. That’s the standard sanitizing solution used all over in restaurants: all hard surfaces, cutting boards etc. We know that’s a safe ratio that does the job.
What about inside the egg?
It is possible that during yolk formation, if the chicken is infected with salmonella, there’s a chance that the egg yolk will be infected too. However, most egg producers make sure their flocks are salmonella-free. They buy salmonella-free chicks, and they are vaccinated. 1 in 20,000 eggs is infected by salmonella. There’s a really, really small chance of coming across a contaminated egg.
There is a process by which the producers can do their best to make sure their chickens are not infected with salmonella; through arrested development of the egg throughout the formation process, it’s really just in that yolk part where there’s that chance you have the salmonella to begin with. Everything else is naturally antibacterial. An egg white, for example, is a very bad medium for bacteria to grow, because of its pH structure. Until you crack that egg, you’re not going to introduce anything. It’s not going to seep its way into the egg [through the shell].
And doesn’t cooking kill bacteria anyway?
Exactly! Especially if you are using your eggs for baking, you’re going to kill everything that’s in there anyway. You’re going to kill it. Nobody gets salmonella from a cake or cookies.
So, what’s the final word on it?
It’s my opinion that eggs are a lot safer than people seem to think they are. You can read more on the topic from the Egg Safety Board!
Editor’s Note: The Egg Safety Board recommends that if you have already refrigerated your eggs, they need to stay that way. But if you leave an egg out overnight on the counter, just sanitize it before cooking, as Sigrid recommends, and you’re good to go!
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