Let's talk about the big egg debate – it is not which came first, but whether eggs should be washed or not. There's a lot of hubbub among consumers and producers about whether unwashed eggs are better than washed ones. I’ll try to make the case for both sides of the argument and will then offer my opinion on the matter.
Before we dive into the debate about washed vs. unwashed eggs, let's take a closer look at what an egg actually is and how it functions.
You probably already know that an egg has a yolk, albumen (also known as whites), and a shell. But did you know that the albumen is actually the food source for the developing chick inside the egg, and that the shell serves as a protective layer? In addition to these main components, there are a few other features of an egg that are worth noting. For example, there are internal and external membranes, as well as an air cell contained within the egg.
The outer membrane is often referred to as the "bloom," and it's a micro-thin layer that helps seal up the pores of the shell to keep bacteria like salmonella out while also keeping air in. The air cell, which is typically found at the large end of the egg, is separated from the shell by an inner membrane that you may have noticed if you've ever peeled a hardboiled egg. This air cell is created by the contraction of the egg's contents as it cools and by the evaporation of moisture after it's been laid. As the chick inside the egg develops and grows, it pierces the inner membrane just before hatching and takes its first breath. The air cell sustains the chick as it breaks through the shell and emerges into the outside world.
So, the issue at hand is whether or not to wash eggs. Washing eggs removes the "bloom" thus opening the pores and increasing the risk of contamination and spoilage. Of course, one could argue that washing the egg removes the potential contaminants therefore the bloom is no longer needed. Commercial egg producers are required to wash their eggs, and once washed they must be refrigerated.
So how do we handle eggs here at Amber Oaks Ranch? Some eggs we wash and some eggs we don’t! Since our hens are free-range, some of our eggs (around 10%) may have external contaminants such as dirt, poop, or cracked shells. I don't understand why some vendors sell dirty eggs, as it doesn't make sense to leave chicken poop or other contaminants on the shell. Even if the bloom offers some protection, it's still possible to get shell fragments in your food or cross-contamination in your kitchen. Most of the time, the eggs we do wash are just subject to warm water and a rub of the thumb. If there is yolk on there, we may have to resort to using a Scotch-Brite pad. If the egg is clean, for no other reason than to avoid the extra effort, we don’t bother washing it.
When it comes to keeping your eggs fresh, here's the deal: commercial eggs can be up to 25 days old before they hit the shelves and can last for a few weeks after that. But at Amber Oaks Ranch, our eggs are never more than 5 days old and usually just a couple days out of the nest. It’s likely that your consuming your eggs withing 2 weeks of purchasing them, thus never exceeding 3 weeks from nest to omelet. So, in my opinion, the argument for keeping the bloom for freshness is a total non-issue.
Of course, this opens the topic of refrigeration. The FDA requires eggs to be refrigerated to less than 45 degrees immediately after collection. This is to inhibit bacterial growth and maintain freshness. Once an egg has been refrigerated, you must continue to refrigerate it to prevent condensation forming on the shell and thus becoming a vector for bacterial growth. Except for a few months during the winter, we refrigerate our eggs. In the heat of the summer, I’ve actually had eggs start to cook in their shell. And as we wash some of them, I’d rather err on the side of caution. Some will counter that in European countries eggs are never refrigerated. Well, they’re leaving out the important distinction - those hens have been vaccinated against salmonella!
So, in conclusion, it’s possible that a few of the eggs in your carton have been previously washed and very likely that they’ve been refrigerated, and we advise storing them in your refrigerator, otherwise, make sure to wipe off any condensation. If you’re a purist and want unwashed, unrefrigerated eggs, just place a pre-order, and let us know. We can make up a special carton for you. If you do use unwashed eggs, I strongly recommend that you wash your eggs before you use them just in case a stray bit of shell makes its way to your plate.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on the issue. Please send your comments by way of reply. I don’t pretend to know everything and am always open to new information and reasoning.
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This upcoming Tuesday marks the final Pflugerville Winter Market of the year. The city run Pflugerville Pfarmers Market will resume on Tuesday, March 14th, and will be held from 3 pm to 7 pm at 901 Old Austin Hutto Rd.
On Tuesday, March 7th, and all other Tuesdays when the city does not host a market we will be delivering pre-orders to the Heritage Park market location.
Pflugerville PFarmers Market Schedule:
- Early Opening Markets: March 14 & 28, April 11 & 25
- Regular Season: May 2 - October 31
- Pfestive Markets: November 7 & 21, December 5, 12 & 19