Should Fresh Eggs Be Washed?
Different cultures treat egg washing in different ways – many cultures (such as all the EU countries) prohibit washing fresh eggs that are to be sold whereas most places in the US require them to be washed. So the question arises – is it best to wash the eggs after collecting them or leave them unwashed?
Despite what regulations in much of the US say, the answer is, it’s generally better to leave the egg unwashed. The great thing with having your own chickens providing eggs is that you can decide, and do what works best for your situation.
Why Not Washing May Be Better
Just before laying an egg, the hen adds a protective layer called “bloom” or cuticle (see Understanding Egg Bloom) to the outside of the egg. This coating seals the shell pores, prevents bacteria from getting inside the shell, and reduces moisture loss from the egg – all designed to make the egg last longer. Washing the eggs removes this protective layer, and does reduce the time that the egg will remain fresh.
So, eggs that are removed from the nest box that are clean, are best left unwashed until just before use. However, eggs that have dirt, feathers, or chicken droppings attached when removed from the nest box should be washed in warm water (eggs should not be washed in cool water as this pushes bacteria into the shell pores) and used first.
Obviously then, if you don’t intend to wash your eggs, it’s best to keep nest boxes nice and clean so that as many eggs as possible remain clean.
What If You Sell Eggs?
If you sell your eggs, then it’s important to check the rules in your state concerning whether they need to be washed. In general, the USDA requires that eggs that are to be sold be washed (see this link).
The USDA requires producers to wash eggs with warm water at least 20°F warmer than the internal temperature of the eggs and at a minimum of 90°F. A detergent that won’t impart any foreign odors to the eggs must also be used. After washing, the eggs must be rinsed with a warm water spray containing a chemical sanitizer to remove any remaining bacteria. They are then dried to remove excess moisture.
Individual state regulations for smaller egg operations may exempt some egg producers from the above egg washing rule in the US so it’s important to make sure you’re in compliance with whatever rules apply in your state.
United States consumers are also accustomed to washed eggs (the ones in the supermarket are generally required to be washed), so that’s also a consideration in deciding whether to wash. Just make sure to let your customers know whether they need to wash the eggs they purchase from you before use.
To wash homestead eggs, just rinse them under very warm tap water. It’s not necessary to use any soaps or detergents.
Unwashed eggs will last at least two weeks unrefrigerated, and three months if refrigerated. Washed eggs should be refrigerated, and will last at least two months, but won’t taste as fresh as an unwashed egg of the same age.