If you’ve shopped in both the U.S. and Europe, you may have noticed eggs are sold refrigerated in the U.S. but not in Europe. So, it raises the question; why aren’t eggs refrigerated in Europe?
There is actually a very simple answer to this question:
It’s Two Different Ways To Protect Us Against Salmonella
I’m sure you’ve heard of Salmonella. Salmonella is a bacteria that causes food poisoning, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s responsible for more than 1 million foodborne illnesses every year.
One of the foods it’s most commonly found in is eggs. Although, I do want to stress that it’s really a tiny percentage of people that contract Salmonella from eggs.
I don’t want to scare you into thinking you’re at risk. Most people will never get food poisoning from an egg in their lives - I know I never have.
It’s something egg farmers are very aware of, however, and the poultry industry goes to great lengths to minimize the risk of Salmonella.
I short; in the U.S. eggs are washed to remove any bacteria before being sold. This removes an egg’s natural antibacterial coating called a “bloom”, so the eggs need to be refrigerated to limit the growth of bacteria.
In Europe, on the other hand, eggs are not washed so they still have their protective bloom or cuticle as it’s also called. This means bacteria cannot penetrate the egg and they stay fresh at room temperature for a number of weeks.
Why Refrigerating Eggs Is Not Necessary in Europe
Europe has had its fair share of Salmonella outbreaks over the years. It’s been a learning process over the years to find the best way to safely produce eggs, meat, and other foods on scale with the smallest risk possible.
They’re at a place now where cases of Salmonella are around the lowest they’ve been for a long time. In fact, in the UK it was only a few years ago that “Lion Mark” eggs were declared as close to 100% safe for pregnant women and young children as they can be.
The way they tackle Salmonella in the UK is by vaccinating hens against the bacteria. They then do not wash the eggs, meaning eggs keep their natural antibacterial coating.
It’s been proven that this coating will keep bacteria at bay for weeks at room temperature. Although, I know a lot of people still keep their eggs in the fridge in Europe. It doesn’t do any harm to do so.
Why Refrigerating Eggs Is Necessary In the U.S.
To go into more detail as to why you do have to keep eggs refrigerated in the U.S., it’s because the risk of Salmonella is treated after the eggs are laid. Not by vaccinating the hens before they lay the eggs.
This doesn’t mean hens are not vaccinated or treated to ensure they and their eggs are healthy. It’s just that U.S. farmers do not typically use the same vaccinations targeting the same strains of Salmonella.
Eggs undergo a sterilization process before being sold. This of course removes the protective bloom as I’ve already mentioned. That is the reason why you need to refrigerate eggs that have been washed.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends keeping the eggs below 40°F (4.4°C) as this makes it difficult for bacteria to form.
To Refrigerate or Not Refrigerate - Which Is Better?
This is something I see asked a lot; should you store your eggs in the fridge or leave them out at room temperature?
Well, if you’ve read all of this article up to this point, you’ll know the answer. For the most part, it depends on whether or not the eggs have been washed as part of their preparation.
If eggs have had their protective bloom removed, then you should refrigerate them.
How do you know if they’ve been washed? If they’re being refrigerated when you buy them, you should also get them in your fridge as soon as you can.
If you’re buying eggs from a farmer’s market or you’ve been given them by friends - ask if they’ve been washed. If in doubt, put them in the fridge.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t do any harm to keep eggs at a cool temperature. In fact, Healthline states that refrigerating eggs can double their shelf life and keeps them fresher for longer.
They list the only downsides being that eggs can absorb odors and flavors from other strong foods in the fridge. But I’ve never known that to be an issue. Plus, for baking you’ll often need to use room temperature eggs, so don’t forget to get them out in good time.
Related - Here's why backyard chicken eggs are perfectly safe to eat.
In this article, I wanted to discuss the reasons why eggs aren’t refrigerated in Europe. As it’s one of those things that often comes as a surprise to U.S. folks.
Now you know the answer lies in how eggs are prepared, and the way different countries deal with the possible threat of Salmonella and other bacteria.
There is no right or wrong answer, both methods are perfectly effective at protecting us against bacteria.
As long as you know how to properly store both farm and store-bought eggs, how to test the eggs are fresh, and how to cook them, the risk of food poisoning should always be minimal.
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