With concerns over salmonella contamination and the preservation of egg quality, knowing how long eggs can remain unrefrigerated becomes crucial. Different standards between countries, such as the United States and Europe, further complicate this issue, leading to a mix of practices regarding egg washing, refrigeration, and countertop storage. I will share more details about this topic in the following sections.
- Never leave cooked eggs or egg dishes out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours or for more than 1 hour when temperatures are above 90° F.
- Refrigerated eggs should be left out for no more than 2 hours.
Best Practices for Handling and Storing
To ensure the safety and longevity, maintaining an optimal temperature is paramount. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends storing at a constant temperature of 40°F or below.
This practice inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, which can proliferate at warmer temperatures. Refrigerating promptly after purchase and returning them to the refrigerator immediately after use minimizes the risk of temperature fluctuation, which can lead to condensation on the eggshell and further bacterial growth.
Keep it Clean
Proper hygiene plays a critical role in preventing foodborne illnesses. Washing hands with soap and water before and after handling reduces the risk of cross-contamination. Surfaces and utensils that come into contact with raw eggs should be sanitized promptly to eliminate bacteria.
Additionally, inspecting for cleanliness and integrity before use is essential; discard any with cracked or broken shells, as they are more susceptible to contamination.
Eggs should be stored in their original carton to prevent them from absorbing strong odors and flavors from other foods in the refrigerator, a phenomenon facilitated by the porous nature of eggshells.
The carton also offers protection against physical damage and helps retain moisture. Storing in the coldest part of the refrigerator, typically the back, rather than the door, ensures they remain at a stable temperature, further extending their shelf life.
What is the Common Rule?
A fundamental rule in egg safety is the “Two-Hour Rule” which stipulates that eggs should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. This guideline becomes even more stringent in high-temperature environments (above 90°F), where the safe window reduces to just one hour. Adhering to this rule is crucial, as harmful bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.
Once they have been refrigerated, they must remain so. The process of cooling and then exposing to room temperature can cause condensation, making them more prone to bacterial growth. Consistent refrigeration not only preserves the quality of the eggs but also extends their usability, ensuring they are safe for consumption for up to five weeks when stored properly.
Do You Have to Wash Eggs?
In many countries, including the United States, regulations require egg producers to wash and sanitize eggs before distribution. This process is designed to remove potential contaminants from the eggshell. However, it also strips the eggs of their natural protective coating, necessitating refrigeration to prevent bacterial infiltration and to maintain freshness.
But Don’t Do It at Home
Contrary to some beliefs, washing at home is discouraged. Introducing water to the eggshell can facilitate the transfer of bacteria into the egg through its porous surface. If they are visibly soiled, a better practice is to gently wipe them with a dry cloth or paper towel. This method reduces the risk of contamination while preserving the egg’s natural defenses against bacteria.
What About Boiled Eggs?
Hard-boiled have a shorter shelf life than their raw counterparts, typically lasting about a week in the refrigerator. They should be stored in a clean, airtight container to protect them from absorbing odors and to prevent them from drying out.
Unlike raw , hard-boiled are more susceptible to microbial contamination once their protective shell is removed, underscoring the importance of refrigeration.
Peeling and Usage
While it might be convenient to peel hard-boiled in advance, it’s advisable to do so only immediately before consumption or use in recipes. Pre-peeled ones should be consumed within a day or stored submerged in cold water in a sealed container in the refrigerator, with the water changed daily to ensure freshness and safety.
What Are Some Common Misconceptions?
A prevalent myth suggests that they must be brought to room temperature before baking or cooking to ensure the best results. However, most recipes are formulated with refrigerated in mind, and using them straight from the fridge rarely impacts the quality or outcome of the dish.
The Float Test and Salmonella
The float test is often touted as a means to determine an egg’s freshness, with the idea that older eggs float due to increased air inside the shell. While this test can indicate an egg’s age, it does not provide any information regarding the presence of Salmonella or other bacteria.
An egg floating is a sign that it has aged, as air has entered the egg through its porous shell, increasing its buoyancy. However, an older egg that floats may still be safe to consume if it does not exhibit any signs of spoilage, such as an off odor or unusual appearance. It’s crucial to remember that the float test is a guideline for freshness and not a definitive indicator of safety.
Brown vs. White Eggs
Another common misconception is the belief that the color of an eggshell affects its nutritional value or safety. The color, whether brown, white, or even blue and green, is determined by the breed of the hen and has no bearing on the egg’s quality, taste, or nutritional content.
The primary factors that influence an egg’s nutritional value are the hen’s diet and environment, not the color of its shell. Both brown and white eggs can be equally nutritious and safe to eat, provided they are handled and stored properly.
Washing Increases Safety
Some people mistakenly believe that washing before use can increase their safety by removing potential bacteria from the shell. However, as previously mentioned, washing eggs at home can actually increase the risk of bacterial contamination by facilitating the transfer of bacteria through the shell’s pores.
In countries where eggs are not pre-washed, the natural protective coating, or “bloom,” remains intact, helping to prevent bacteria from entering the egg. It’s best to rely on the cleanliness practices of the egg producers and the protective measures taken during the packaging process to ensure egg safety.
Refrigeration is Not Always Necessary
This misconception often arises from the observation that in many parts of the world, they are stored at room temperature without apparent issue. The necessity for refrigeration largely depends on how they are processed and handled before they reach the consumer.
In the United States and other countries where eggs are washed and sanitized to remove contaminants, refrigeration is necessary to prevent bacterial growth after the natural protective barrier has been removed.
Conversely, in countries where eggs are left unwashed, the protective bloom allows them to be stored at room temperature for several weeks without significant risk of bacterial growth. The key to safe egg storage, whether refrigerated or not, is understanding and adhering to the local food safety guidelines and practices.
Can I eat cooked eggs left out for 5 hours?
It is not recommended to eat cooked eggs that have been left out for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F. This is because bacteria can grow quickly on cooked eggs at room temperature and cause food poisoning.
Why do Europeans not refrigerate eggs?
Europeans do not refrigerate eggs because they do not wash them before selling them. Washing eggs removes a natural protective layer called the cuticle, which makes the eggs more susceptible to bacteria and moisture loss. Europeans also vaccinate their chickens against salmonella, which reduces the risk of infection.
What happens if you don’t refrigerate eggs?
If you don’t refrigerate eggs, they will lose their freshness and quality faster. They may also become contaminated by bacteria or mold, especially if they have been washed or have cracks in the shell. Refrigerating eggs slows down the aging and bacterial growth of eggs and extends their shelf life.
How do you know if unrefrigerated eggs are bad?
You can use several methods to tell if unrefrigerated eggs are bad, such as:
- The sniff test: Crack the egg into a bowl and smell it. If it has a foul or rotten odor, it is bad and should be discarded.
- The visual inspection: Look at the egg white and yolk for any discoloration, sliminess, or mold. If you see any signs of spoilage, it is bad and should be discarded.
- The float test: Place the egg in a glass of water. If it sinks, it is fresh. If it floats, it is old and may be bad.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, the rules are not the same around the world. However, keep in mind that it is important to follow strict guidelines in places where eggs are treated with chemicals and cleaned thoroughly before packing and sending to stores.
In this case, the package must be stored in a fridge. When it comes to cooked and boiled eggs, never let them sit for more than 2 hours.