One of the nice things about raising your own chickens is knowing what they are eating and what is going into the eggs they lay. Another nice thing is knowing that your eggs are fresh.
The average egg in the grocery store is 6 weeks old by the time you buy it. Hopefully none of your backyard eggs will hang around that long, but if they do, here are some tips to keeping your eggs fresh as long as possible.
Nesting box bedding should be changed often so it is always clean and eggs should be collected as often as possible. That way the eggs should be clean and not caked with mud or chicken poop.
If any eggs ARE dirty, I rinse them immediately with warm water (cool water can cause bacteria to be pulled into the egg through the pores in the shell) and scramble them up for our dog or to feed back to the chickens. They are a super nutritious treat for the chickens and won't lead to egg eating in your flock. I promise you !
Eggs should not be washed before storing on the counter or in the refrigerator. There is a natural bloom on the surface of the shell that keeps out air and bacteria. Its important to leave the bloom intact in order to keep your eggs fresh.
~freshly collected eggs haven't even made it back to the house yet~
Eggs don't need to be refrigerated, but one day out on the counter at room temperature is equivalent to about a week in the refrigerator, so if you aren't planning on eating your eggs for awhile, it is best to refrigerate them.
~refrigeration is your choice, sometimes its a matter of available space~
Eggs also freeze well, so I always freeze some during the summer and fall to use through the winter when production drops. Click HERE for instructions on freezing. If you live in a cold climate, there's a danger of the eggs freezing outside in the nesting boxes and possibly cracking, for some cold weather egg handling tips, click HERE.
Eggs separate better if they are cold, but whites will beat higher and stiffer if they are allowed to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Eggs should always be stored with the pointy end down and the blunt end up. The air sac in the blunt end helps keep additional moisture from being lost.
~store eggs pointed end down for maximum freshness~
If you are in doubt as to how old an egg is, just do the 'Float Test'. Drop the egg into a glass of water. A fresh egg will lay on the bottom of the glass.
~fresh eggs don't float~
A refrigerated egg that is two to three weeks old will start to rise up off the bottom of the glass. It is still perfectly good to eat, just not quite as fresh. It will also hard boil better/peel easier, but I steam eggs instead - that way I can use freshly laid eggs and not have to wait for our eggs to 'age' to peel easily.
An egg that is two months old will start to angle up a bit more and by three months stand up straight in the glass, but as long as one end is still touching the bottom, it's still perfectly good to eat.
If an egg floats, toss it, it's bad.
The decision to refrigerate or not is a personal one. In the UK, Ireland and many European countries, eggs aren't even refrigerated at the grocery store. My grandmother never refrigerated the eggs from their chickens. She also left butter out on the counter...and lived to be almost 100 years old.
I like to leave a dozen or so eggs on the counter to be used first and then refrigerate the rest. Partly because they look pretty and partly for the convenience. The bowl or basket of eggs out on the counter is a visual reminder of our wonderful, simple farm life. Just seeing them makes me smile.
When you are ready to use your eggs, rinse them under warm tap water. There is no need to use any soaps, detergent or commercial egg washes. Plain tap water works fine. Just be sure its warm to avoid drawing bacteria in through the shell. Save the eggshells, dry and crush them to feed to your chickens as a free source of much-needed calcium.
If you sell your eggs, let your customers know to rinse the eggs off before they use them. Here in Virginia, eggs sold at farmer's markets MUST be UNwashed.
So in summary:
- Don't wash your eggs until just before you are ready to use them. Once you have removed the 'bloom', you have removed the protective barrier against air and bacteria
- UNwashed eggs will last at least two weeks UNrefrigerated and three months or more in the refrigerator
- If the eggs are soiled and MUST be washed, use warm water and try to use them immediately
- Washed eggs will last at least 2 months in the refrigerator but won't taste as fresh as unwashed eggs of the same age
- When in doubt, do the float test before using the egg
Following these few tips, your eggs should stay fresh and delicious for as long as possible. Although if your household is anything like mine, they don't hang around long enough to be anything BUT fresh!