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Eggs are an important source of protein and an unavoidable part of all our regular diets. Many questions arise regarding the storage and handling of eggs. How long can eggs sit out of the refrigerator? Does refrigeration affect the nutritional composition of eggs? Will there be bacterial growth if eggs are left out? How to increase its shelf life?
Eggs seldom go bad when properly handled and stored. Egg quality will decline over time, and the air pocket grows larger while the yolk and whites become watery and less springy. As time passes, it dries up instead of going bad. Idealistically, as long as there is no bacterial contamination, you need not worry about its shelf life.
In many countries like America, Japan, Australia, and The Netherlands, eggs are washed and cleaned as soon as they are laid. This harms the outer protective layer of the egg and allows bacterial contamination. In such countries, eggs are listed as perishable and stored in refrigerators. Refrigeration slows down this process and makes it harder to penetrate. This is why it is safer for you to refrigerate eggs if you wish to store them longer.
A lot of countries sell unrefrigerated eggs. If eggs were never refrigerated, they could stay out in a cool place for a week during winter while only 3 to 4 days in summer. But once you refrigerate eggs, you have to keep them refrigerated. Properly refrigerated eggs will last up to five weeks.
Can previously refrigerated eggs last long?
Two hours is the ideal time that eggs (raw and hard-boiled) can sit out on the counter at room temperature. If it is hotter, the eggs might go bad within an hour or less. The best way to know if your eggs have rotten is to conduct a sniff test. An egg that has gone bad will give off an unmistakable odor. You have to serve or refrigerate cooked eggs immediately. It is better to discard eggs or egg dishes sitting at room temperature beyond this time limit and get yourself a new dozen.
While refrigerating (34 °F to 40°F), note that raw whole eggs (in shell) last 4 to 5 weeks beyond the manufacturing date/ about 3 weeks after you buy. Raw whole eggs (beaten slightly) last up to 2 days. Meanwhile, egg whites do not spoil up to 4 days and egg yolks up to 2 days. Hard-boiled eggs (in shell) can be stored for up to 1 week. You should use hard-boiled eggs (peeled) the same day for maximum quality.
You have to store eggs in their original carton in the back of the fridge. This protects them from temperature fluctuations as you open and close the refrigerator door. It also prevents them from absorbing other unpleasant odors.
It is not ideal to freeze eggs in their shells. Raw whole eggs, whites and yolks are preserved longer with the help of a freezer-safe container, and this extends its shelf life up to a year or more. It is not ideal for you to freeze hard-boiled eggs, be it in a shell or not. Though storage time increases, the quality will not necessarily be retained. The freezer should be below 0-degree Fahrenheit (-17.78 °C). You can thaw frozen eggs and use this within a span of one week’s time.
Why is refrigeration important?
Refrigeration increases the shelf-life of eggs. Temperature is an unavoidable factor that facilitates bacterial growth, such as Salmonella. Eggs are susceptible to Salmonella growth and are a major cause of food poisoning. A fresh egg that is contaminated by Salmonella is difficult to identify as it will look and smell normal initially. It is not wise to take a chance by leaving eggs outside for a long time as this accelerates bacterial growth. Also, be sure to cook your eggs properly at a safe temperature (about 71 °C) before consumption.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates show about 79,000 cases of illness and 30 deaths per year caused by eggs contaminated with Salmonella. Symptoms of Salmonella include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting and so on. It is better to be safe than sorry. So next time, do not forget to store your eggs below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44 °C)
The Salmonella bacteria is passed to the egg from an infected hen or when the egg comes in contact with contaminated feces. It is safe to keep the eggs of those hens that are vaccinated against Salmonella outside for 1 to 3 weeks without getting spoiled. But, after 1 week its quality will decline. About 21 days later, the natural protective layers, which act as a mechanical barrier along with some enzymes, will lose their effect.
Measures suggested by FDA
- Egg producers need to vaccinate their hens
- Regular testing
- Standardizing refrigeration
- Strict sanitary codes in hen houses and processing areas
- Videos and articles with handling instructions
- Labels in the egg carton
- Wash hands and utensils with soapy hot water if they come in contact with raw eggs and raw egg-containing foods.
Refrigeration is so effective at controlling the growth of bacteria that it would be a waste of money to throw away eggs because of expiry date. In combination with an egg’s protective cuticle and enzymes, refrigerated eggs do not go bad. You also need to keep in mind that refrigeration does not kill the Salmonella bacteria but simply limits its growth.
In India, a method called ‘Layer farming’ is common. In this process, there are no males, which leaves all the eggs unfertilized. Sterilization is redundant, and the chances of entry of Salmonella bacteria is only 0.1%. One shortcoming of refrigerating eggs is that it increases the chances of cross-contamination when it comes in contact with other stored food.
Tips to improve the shelf life of eggs
- Buy eggs stored in a refrigerator or refrigerated case.
- Check if the eggs inside the carton are clean and the shells not cracked.
- Prompt storage of eggs in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40° F or below. Check the temperature using a refrigerator thermometer.
- Store eggs in their original carton and use them within 3 weeks for best quality.
- Proper storage can ensure quality and safety.
- While transporting, ensure that eggs are kept on the cooler side and not in the warm trunk.
In short, with proper handling, transportation and storage, eggs can last for at least a week in a cool room. The same can last for 3 to 5 weeks in the fridge and about a year in the freezer. A previously refrigerated egg can last for a maximum of two hours outside. If you throw away eggs as soon as the date on the box has passed, you might be wasting good eggs.
The quality of an egg declines if you store it for a longer period, making it runnier. However, older eggs can still be used for other purposes. The best options being – boiling and making omelets, sunny-side-up, scrambled eggs or baking. In case you do not know for how long the egg has been out, crack and pour it on a clean plate. If it looks and smells normal, you can say it is safe to use.
Many factors affect your storage decision, depending on the weather, temperature and storage space available. All these vary from country to country, so this is a personal choice you need to make depending on your unique situation. Keep in mind, eggs get spoiled if exposed to warm or high temperatures. So, now, if you’re wondering – how long can eggs sit out? – You have the answer.