Are these eggs safe to eat?
October 10, 2008 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Should-I-Eat-This-Filter: I left a half-dozen eggs on the counter yesterday...

They were uncooked, still in their shells, out of direct sunlight. I'd estimate the kitchen was about 70 degrees. They were there from 8am-7pm. When I came home and found them still out, I popped them back in the fridge. The eggs are from our CSA, so they're organic, free-range, etc.

I did a bit of research, and from what I understand, salmonella is only a risk if there's already salmonella bacteria in the egg. To be on the safe side, my pregnant wife won't be eating any of these. Are they okay for me to eat? What factors contribute to eggs going bad? is it time, temperature, or a combination? I understand that the safest course of action is just tossing them, but I hate to waste food.

you are not my doctor, nor will i hold the moderators responsible if i get sick. thanks.
posted by dubold to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In many countries, eggs are stored and sold unrefrigerated. An abundance of caution is not a bad idea in not giving them to your wife, but you'll be fine.

Did I really just answer a should-I-eat-this question?
posted by veggieboy at 9:05 AM on October 10, 2008

You'll be fine; most supermarkets – at least in the UK – have them stored on the shelves anyway (not refrigerated).
posted by mandal at 9:06 AM on October 10, 2008

Huh? In the grocery stores here in the UK, eggs are sold in the regular aisles, next to bread.

Eggs don't need to be refrigerated, you silly Americans!
posted by vacapinta at 9:07 AM on October 10, 2008

eggs are fine
posted by hworth at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2008

Nthing what everyone else has said but cook them thoroughly if you're worried. Cooking kills salmonella.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:16 AM on October 10, 2008

The egg board disagrees and says after 2 hours you should pitch.

Temperature change may be an issue. The eggs in Europe were never refrigerated. Yours probably were.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:16 AM on October 10, 2008

Eggs smell bad when they go wrong. VERY BAD.
posted by philip-random at 9:25 AM on October 10, 2008

The egg board disagrees and says after 2 hours you should pitch.

The egg board wants you to spend more money on eggs.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:25 AM on October 10, 2008 [22 favorites]

Here's the difference: in the US, there are laws mandating that (USDA rated) eggs be washed and sanitized before they are sold. This removes a protective membrane that allows for safe room-temperature storage. In other countries, the membrane is not washed off, which is why they're sold in regular aisles.

They were CSA eggs, so there's a good chance that those eggs are not washed. Call the organizer, say that you're a subscriber and were wondering if the eggs were washed before delivery or not. CSAs are not, to the best of my knowledge, required to wash them, since you're not technically buying eggs, you're buying a share in a farm.

I will also be honest: I have eaten eggs that were left out in the circumstances you describe. They were from the supermarket, so they'd been washed and everything. They didn't make me sick, no one died, and they tasted fine. YMMV.
posted by meghanmiller at 9:29 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Think about how long they sit unrefrigerated after being laid.
I routinely harvest eggs from our chickens a day or two or three after being laid, and they sit in the coop, often with a hen sitting on them, out in the sun and the elements.
They're fine.
posted by dan g. at 9:30 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

When the use-by date expires on eggs, they are sent back to be re-packaged. (via 60 minutes)
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:31 AM on October 10, 2008

You'll be fine. Eat them. From what I've read/heard, eggs don't really need refrigeration, and they're only refrigerated in America out of thrift because it extends their shelf life to a couple weeks. I've never heard about the membrane meghanmiller talked about.

I wouldn't worry about the 2 hour warning. It's a boiler-plate warning given for perishable foods in general by food safety places, but I think the only thing that would go bad that quickly would be seafood or milk.

Also, I'm under the impression that thanks to better practices (cleaner feed, less crowding, farmers paying more attention, etc), free range, organic eggs have a much lower chance of salmonella than factory farmed ones.

I'd say go ahead and use them only in applications where the eggs are fully cooked, even though you'd probably be fine anyway.
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:48 AM on October 10, 2008

Best answer: You should be fine after a couple of hours. I have never in my life stored eggs in the fridge; room temperature is the norm in the UK and much of Europe. The texture starts to degrade after a few days (the albumen gets runnier and the yolk paler), but they're safely edible for at least a couple of weeks.

The only consideration is whether American salmonella control is as good as in Britain. Most of our hens are vaccinated against salmonella, and the eggs marked as such. I'm not sure whether that's true for the USA, but this site claims that only roughly 1/20,000 American eggs contain detectable levels of salmonella. It also has a cool diagram of the anatomy of an egg, check it out!

To add a note of caution, Salmonella's doubling time in an ideal medium (which an warm egg is pretty close to) is about 20 minutes. If an egg is warm for two hours, that's plenty of time for the bacterium to reach high levels. On the upside, if your egg does have Salmonalla it'll be completely destroyed by the cooking process and the egg will be totally safe to eat.

Finally, if you're in any doubt about an egg's freshness, drop it into cold water. It should sink slowly. As eggs go off they generate gas which gets stored in a little sac at the blunt (top) end. So a rotten egg will float blunt-end-up due to the added bouyancy.

To sum up:
a) They're almost certainly fine;
b) Even if they're not, cooking will kill any bacteria;
c) As a bonus, even if you eat the eggs raw Salmonella infection isn't normally a problem unless you're already immunosuppressed (fighting another infection, pregnant etc).
posted by metaBugs at 9:51 AM on October 10, 2008

@Meghanmiller. Wow, do you know why the government go out of their way to make eggs less user friendly?

It's turning out that quite a few American habits I'd marked down as finicky or wasteful are actually down to American products making normal European behaviours dangerous. Like the details in this thread about American dish soap making you ill.

Between eating omelettes and washing dishes, I'm amazed I haven't killed myself yet.

I'm also reminded of the quote about the French refusing to store cheese in the refrigerator instead of on the counter. "Would you put your cat in the fridge?"

At any rate the Op can take comfort from the knowledge that I've never poisoned myself eating unrefrigerated eggs in America or Europe, but I may just have a very robust constitution...
posted by the latin mouse at 9:59 AM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Ah ha! Found the cheese cat comparison! Relevant stuff is paragraphs four, five and six.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:01 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

As meghanmiller points out, the reason eggs can go at room temperature in Europe is that they are unwashed. Washed eggs are twice as likely to have salmonella contamination.

That said, I would fully cook these eggs soon and eat them, and I'm pretty conservative about what marginal food I will eat.
posted by grouse at 10:07 AM on October 10, 2008

I've never heard about the membrane meghanmiller talked about.

I hadn't either. Turns out you learn something new every day: "The shell is produced by the shell gland (uterus) of the oviduct, and has an outer coating, the bloom or cuticle. The cuticle somewhat seals the pores and is useful in reducing moisture losses and in preventing bacterial penetration of the egg shell. Much of the cuticle is removed from table eggs when they are mechanically washed."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:11 AM on October 10, 2008

In most countries I've traveled to, families store eggs in a basket out on the kitchen counter. Only in the US (ok, and Canada) do people regularly refrigerate. You'll be fine.
posted by arnicae at 10:14 AM on October 10, 2008

@the_latin_mouse: I believe that they started doing it in an attempt to reduce salmonella, on the basis that technology is clearly far better, easier, more cost-effective, and healthier than anything that nature could produce.

...oh, wait.

Seriously, though, it was a salmonella-scare thing, so far as I can tell. If you're really interested, there's this paper (disclaimer: I've not read it) that seems to go into more detail.
posted by meghanmiller at 10:14 AM on October 10, 2008

Best answer: the_latin_mouse: The USDA claims it is to eliminate salmonella contamination. Didn't I just say that the USDA claimed that washing eggs increases salmonella contamination rates? Yes I did. Does this make sense? No, it doesn't.

If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit.
posted by grouse at 10:21 AM on October 10, 2008

Grouse, the first link you provided says in the interpretive study that washed eggs are more likely to be contaminated, and says in the technical summary that unwashed eggs are more likely to be contaminated ("Salmonella was recovered more often from unwashed eggs (15.8%) than from washed eggs (8.3%)"). I think they might have misstated it the first time, as the whole point of washing the eggs is to reduce Salmonella contamination.
posted by vytae at 10:54 AM on October 10, 2008

...and by "interpretive study" I meant "interpretive summary"...
posted by vytae at 10:54 AM on October 10, 2008

I bet you are right, vytae.
posted by grouse at 10:59 AM on October 10, 2008

I successfully took 6 raw eggs on a canoeing trip on the Rio Grande, sans any refrigeration whatsoever. We ate them in the first couple of days, with no problem.
posted by thebrokedown at 11:24 AM on October 10, 2008

Eggs don't have external membranes - I've seen them come straight from the chicken - they do not. Washing eggs does not make them more likely to carry salmonella, it just gets the chicken crap off of them. I personally store eggs in the fridge to keep them from getting broken on the counter, and to keep other people from freaking out over unrefrigerated eggs.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:34 AM on October 10, 2008

Yeah, looking at some other articles, it looks like the cuticle is better described as a "coating" than a "membrane."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:10 PM on October 10, 2008

Wow - I am usually first to say "yeah, go ahead and eat whatever it is" but I would have said not to mess with eggs. Shows what I know.

I'm printing this thread out and showing my mom.
posted by KAS at 12:33 PM on October 10, 2008

Washing eggs does not make them more likely to carry salmonella, it just gets the chicken crap off of them.

Washing eggs makes them LESS likely to carry salmonella, precisely because it gets the chicken crap off them. Salmonella enteriditis bacteria are normal flora in the intestines of poultry. The way eggs get contaminated is by contact with chicken feces.

On the other hand, spoiling due to oxidation is completely different from spoiling due to Salmonella, though both proceed more rapidly in warm temperatures. If your eggs are contaminated with Salmonella and you eat them raw, you may get sick regardless of whether they sat on the counter for a day first. If they aren't contaminated, one day on the counter is not going to be long enough for them to spoil due to oxidation. I've seen many recommendations for recreational backpackers and sailors (in the USA) saying that eggs are fine for several days without refrigeration. If you coat them in wax or keep them buried in flour, they last even longer because this seals up the pores in the shell to prevent the contents of the egg from oxidizing.
posted by vytae at 12:34 PM on October 10, 2008

Yeah, eggs have always been #1 on the list of "why do people refrigerate this?"

I notice that my latest refrigerator, finally, doesn't even have that silly egg-shaped shelf. The last three all did: a waste of space.

So on the counter? For a single day? Definitely fine.
posted by rokusan at 12:53 PM on October 10, 2008

Eggs will smell very, very, very bad if they've gone off. You can't miss it. If they don't stink, cook them fully and you will be fine.

I would only make aioli or mayonnaise with a perfectly fresh egg, however.
posted by tiny crocodile at 2:37 PM on October 10, 2008

I live in the US and have often stored pre-refrigerated eggs on the counter, so whatever this missing protective membrane is, it hasn't been necessary in my case. (And The Light Fantastic is right; they come out of the chicken without a membrane.)
posted by salvia at 5:18 PM on October 10, 2008

So, if you have a glass of water handy, put your egg in it. If it floats, throw it out, otherwise eat it.

(And I'm usually the one who says, OMG no, don't eat it, vomitting and shitting is not worth the price of the food).
posted by b33j at 7:43 PM on October 10, 2008

Does anyone have access to the egg paper linked by meghannmiller and could send me a copy? Please MeMail. Would appreciate learning more about this.
posted by grouse at 12:31 PM on October 11, 2008

Response by poster: hm. so after checking out the links posted, I'm still not sure what the story is with salmonella and egg-washing. Had no idea there was contradictory info out about this stuff; fortunately grouse was there with the Chewbacca defense to cut through the hype.

eggs were eaten; I am still alive.
posted by dubold at 8:35 PM on October 12, 2008

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