Do eggs have to be refrigerated?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

Do eggs have to be refrigerated? This is a question that often arises, especially when people notice that practices regarding egg storage differ between countries. In the United States, fresh, commercially produced eggs need to be refrigerated to minimize the risk of food poisoning. This is because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires eggs to be washed and sanitized prior to being sold, which removes the protective outer layer of the eggshell known as the cuticle. Without this protective layer, the eggs become more susceptible to bacterial contamination.

In many countries in Europe and around the world, however, it is perfectly acceptable to store eggs at room temperature for a few weeks. This is because eggs in these countries are typically not washed or sanitized before being sold, and the cuticle remains intact. The cuticle acts as a natural barrier that helps protect the egg from bacterial invasion, reducing the need for refrigeration.

The decision to refrigerate eggs or not is based on different approaches to egg production and handling. In the United States, the emphasis is on washing and sanitizing eggs to reduce the risk of Salmonella contamination. While this practice removes the cuticle and necessitates refrigeration, it provides an extra layer of safety for consumers.

On the other hand, in many European countries, eggs are not washed or sanitized, as this would remove the cuticle and potentially increase the risk of bacterial contamination. Instead, eggs are stored at room temperature, and producers focus on strict hygiene practices during egg collection and handling. This approach has been deemed safe due to the presence of the intact cuticle, which acts as a natural defense against bacterial invasion.

It is worth noting that even in countries where eggs are typically stored at room temperature, refrigeration may still be recommended under certain circumstances. For example, if an egg has been contaminated or cracked, it should be refrigerated promptly to slow down the growth of bacteria. Additionally, once eggs have been refrigerated, they should continue to be stored in the refrigerator to maintain a consistent temperature and minimize the risk of condensation, which can facilitate bacterial growth.

In my personal experience, having lived in both the United States and Europe, I have observed and followed the different practices regarding egg storage. In the United States, I always refrigerate eggs as soon as I bring them home from the store. However, when I lived in Europe, I would store eggs at room temperature, as that was the norm. I never encountered any issues with egg quality or foodborne illnesses during either experience.

To summarize, whether eggs need to be refrigerated or not depends on the country’s approach to egg production and handling. In the United States, where eggs are washed and sanitized, refrigeration is necessary to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. In many European countries and other parts of the world, eggs are not washed, and the intact cuticle allows for safe room temperature storage. Regardless of where you live, it is essential to follow the recommended storage guidelines and handle eggs with care to ensure food safety.