Everything You Need to Know About Storing Eggs—Including Why They Should Always Be Refrigerated
Eggs are a versatile food and an essential ingredient in so many recipes, from lasagna to layer cake. It's important to remember that they are a perishable item, like raw meat, poultry, and raw fish, and should be handled and stored carefully. Thankfully, proper refrigeration, cooking, and handling should prevent most egg-safety problems.
Why You Should Refrigerate Eggs
Though your grandmother might tell you eggs were stored on the counter when she was a child— and you might have seen eggs left at room temperature in Europe—in the States, you should refrigerate eggs.
Why We Refrigerate Eggs in the U.S.
Here's why: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the egg leaves the hen's body through the same passageway as feces. This means bacteria might be on the shell—so the USDA requires manufacturers to wash eggs. Since this step removes the natural coating that prevents bacterial entry, eggs need to be refrigerated to keep bacteria to a minimum.
Specifically, manufacturers are required to keep eggs at a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, says Carmen Grindatti, a technical reviewer in product certification at NSF, which was previously known as the National Sanitation Foundation, a leading global public health and safety organization.
Keeping Eggs Cool
Once eggs are refrigerated, they need to be kept refrigerated, per the USDA. "If you let an egg sit out on the counter after being chilled, it can sweat," says Grindatti. "This can help [any] harmful bacteria on the outside travel to the inside of the egg, contaminating both the yolk and the white."
As a result, if you don't cook that egg thoroughly, you can get sick from the bacteria. If you have a long commute from the store to your home, consider bringing an insulated cooler with ice that you can store your eggs in during transportation, says Grindatti.
Farmers' Market Eggs
The USDA does not require eggs bought at a farmstand or farmers' market to be washed, so these eggs may be sold unrefrigerated.
Leaving Eggs on the Counter
"Don't leave perishable food—including raw or boiled eggs—unrefrigerated for more than two hours before consumption," says Argyris Magoulas, the technical information specialist at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Even though the cooking process kills pathogens that may pass through eggs' porous shells, toxic by-products of their growth can survive the heat and cause illness. So, if you happen to leave previously refrigerated eggs out overnight, experts say they should not be used (even if your kitchen is cool!).
How to Store Eggs in the Refrigerator
The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA recommends storing eggs in the carton they were purchased in, and leaving your eggs in the coldest part of the fridge. Generally, that is on the lower shelves and towards the back of the unit. If your refrigerator has an egg storage area on the door, know that the this spot trends warmer—and actually is not the optimal place for egg storage.
Eggs with Cracked Shells
If you thought that shoppers simply checked their eggs for cracks to avoid making a mess in their bag on the way home from the store, you're only half right. The real reason to open the carton is because bacteria can enter eggs through cracks—so you should never purchase them if they are damaged.
Should your eggs crack during the ride home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover them tightly, and place them in the refrigerator. They should be eaten within two days and cooked thoroughly.