Is It OK to Store Eggs At Room Temperature?

Posted by Eric Troy on 31 Dec 2013 03:04

Recently, people have been passing around the advice that it is perfectly safe to store eggs at room temperature. I know why this rumor is currently popular, and who is responsible, and I am not pleased about it, but I am going to maintain my mission of keeping this site as light as possible and just give you the scientific facts. The real scientific facts, not the pseudoscience ones made up by a millionaire huxter (oops).

The fact is that eggs kept at room temperature deteriorate about 7 times faster than ones kept in the refrigerator. That means that an egg kept at room temperature will age more in one day than an egg kept in the fridge will age in seven days! Eggs are perfect for two things: Supporting the growth of a baby chick, and supporting the growth of bacteria.

Perhaps, if you have a couple chickens to keep you in fresh eggs, you can keep eggs at room temp. Or, if you have a lot of disposable income and a wasteful nature so you don't mind throwing away a lot of bad eggs. For most of us, it is neither safe nor economical. And safety aside, your egg will be runny, addled, and crappy. The truth is that an egg is at it's best right after it is hatched and then starts deteriorating immediately. Refrigeration greatly slows down this process. Eggs are perishable. Keep them in the fridge. Warm them up a bit before cooking, if you want.

Keeping eggs at room temperature myth
Keeping eggs at room temperature myth

It is easy to think of an egg as being like a canned product. It has a hard shell to protect it, right? Nothing can get in, so maybe it can't really go bad all that quickly. Well, eggshells are not airtight. They have as many as 17,000 tiny pores in them. To learn about the changes that take place in an egg as it ages, and how you can tell a fresh egg from an older one, see this article about egg quality and grading.

How You Should Store Eggs

Although refrigerators often come with little egg shaped indentations in the door for egg storage, it's not really cold enough in the door to store eggs. The best place to keep eggs is on the bottom shelf. Keep them in a dry carton, and place them with the large side up to keep the egg cell within the egg from migrating toward the yolk. Don't wash eggs, even if you see a little dirt (or other stuff) on them. Usually, eggs are coated with a thin coating of oil to help protect them and keep them fresher longer. Washing them is only going to wash off this protective coating.

How Long Will Eggs Last in the Fridge?

Most egg cartons will tell you to only store the eggs for one week. But if you keep them in the coldest part of the fridge, you can easily use them for up to a month. Just keep in mind, as you will learn form the article linked above, that there will be some changes taking place as the eggs sit in the fridge which will effect their quality for cooking. Depending on what you plan to use them for, this may or may not matter. But, they will not be bad, per se.

Now, the typical arguments as to why eggs are OK to keep at room temperature are:

1. People in most countries outside the U.S. and Canada keep eggs at room temp.

My answer to this is that it is non-evidence. What other people do or do not do has no bearing, scientifically. If people in other countries besides the U.S. and Canada all jumped off a cliff, would you do so as well?

The real question is, what is the difference, scientifically?

2. If eggs are not contaminated with salmonella, they'll be fine at room temperature.

But, of course, you cannot know that eggs are contaminated with salmonella. These same people tend to say that the U.S. requires eggs to be power-washed and so it washes off the natural protective coating, called, that is deposited on the egg as it is laid.

This natural protective coating is a protein and fat substance called a cuticle. Yes, it is true that washing with detergents washes off this coating. But, the same regulations that require eggs to be washed, require them to be coated with mineral oil or another protective barrier. It probably is not necessary for eggs to be washed in this manner, I won't argue that. Although, you would probably balk at seeing chicken poop on your store bought eggs.

In the U.S. egg washing has been required sicne 1970. Eggs are also washed in Japan, Australia, and Scandanavia. Many European countries do not wash eggs, based on the vague idea that it can easily be done wrong and cause more problems.

However, what the proponents usually cite are studies that find no changes in eggs (if unwashed) kept at room temp for one or two weeks. They blatantly ignore any data that differs from this and other studies have been done that detect changes in eggs much more rapidly. The problem is a typical one. The studies that find no changes for a couple of weeks are done by people who are warm egg proponents. The studies that find differently are done by chilled egg proponents. But regardless, there is one thing that is for sure, and this is what the warm egg people consistently ignore: In the fridge, eggs can last months!

The other component that is ignored is that most of us here in the U.S. do not buy our eggs at a farmer's market all the time. Most of us do not have access to one and certainly, not everyone can drive miles and miles to some farmer to buy eggs. If you know your eggs are fresh as can be, and they haven't been refrigerated, then you should probably feel comfortable with leaving them on the counter or shelf for at least a week before you use them up.

But when you buy your eggs at the grocery store, they are NOT fresh as can be. They are aging eggs. You don't know how fresh they are and you don't know how much longer they would last, should you let them go warm and leave them that way. Again, you're probably OK for a few days. But there is more to egg quality than bacterial contamination. Changes inside the egg effect it's quality for cooking, as well. The use by date on the egg carton is NOT meant to tell you how long they can't be kept at room temperature.

3. Cooking with chilled eggs sucks. They don't mix well with other ingredients, egg whites are harder to whip, etc.

True. But there is no reason to think that simply letting a chilled egg warm up for an hour or so before using it won't work fine.

So, given all this, you decide what to do. If you are going to use your eggs quickly, and if you know they are very fresh, then I think you should feel comfortable leaving them at room temp for at least a week. If you buy your eggs at the grocery store, like most of us, I think you should keep them in the fridge unless you're going to use them within about two days.

The idea that eggs should be stored at room temperature because "that's what they do in Europe," or "that is what we did in the country when I was young" is based on nothing the misguided notion that there was some common-sense wisdom in every old practice, and that we've somehow lost this wisdom. This is magical thinking. Science is quite clear that eggs stored at room temperature do not last even a fraction of the time as eggs kept refrigerated. An egg shell is not a germ-proof fortress. Yes, if you use a whole lot of eggs on a daily basis, then you can probably keep them at room temperature. But if you are a normal person who buys a dozen eggs at a time and uses them over the coarse of a week or more, you will want to keep them cold. It is true that it is best not to cook with cold eggs, in most circumstances, but this is hardly a reason to keep eggs warm at all times.

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