When I’m working consumer education events like the Calgary Stampede or Amazing Agriculture, one of the most frequently asked questions I get goes something like this: “I was traveling in Asia (or Europe or South America) and I noticed that they don’t refrigerate their eggs. They just sit on the shelves or on a pallet in the middle of the grocery store. That can’t be safe, can it?”
Well, there are a few parts to consider as I answer this question:
- The first is understanding the actual composition of the egg and in this case, a picture is worth a thousand words. The egg is composed of four parts: yolk, albumen (or white), membrane and shell. The inner and outer shell layers contain small openings called pores, up to 8000 per egg. In a freshly laid egg, the pores are almost completely closed. The cuticle is the very last layer laid down in the formation of the egg. It blocks many of the pores of the eggshell to help prevent too much rapid exchange of air and moisture and also aids in preventing bacteria from entering the egg contents.1
- Canada has some the strictest food safety regulations in the world. I reached out to my grading station, Burnbrae Farms, to confirm that CFIA mandates that eggs sold commercially (through grocery stores, retail outlets or to restaurants) be washed. They use a chlorine-based product called EggWash that destroys any Salmonella bacteria that could be present on the outside of the egg. Once the eggs are washed, it removes that natural barrier, the cuticle, and eggs must be refrigerated to prevent bacteria from entering the egg.
- As an egg farmer, I start the egg safety process by refrigerating the freshly gathered eggs in my cooler. Under our Start-Clean, Stay-Clean program (a HACCP-based program), I maintain the cooler temperature between 10o – 13oC and the humidity between 75%-85%. The eggs are transported in a refrigerated truck to the grading station and after the washing, grading & packaging process, the eggs are refrigerated in their coolers. That is also why you will find eggs in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
I want to be clear that this is a Canadian standard and very strictly monitored and regulated. Other countries do not mandate that the eggs be washed and so eggs can be kept at room temperatures and without refrigeration.
Safe food is a concern for all consumers, and I’m happy that I can play a small part in providing fresh, safe and local food to Albertans!
1 Commercial Chicken Production Manual, Fourth Edition by Mack O. North/Donald D. Bell