Egg myths
February 22, 2009 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Eggs. I love eggs. Every time I use eggs I wonder about food safety but not obcessively so... I think and then I do anyway. There are two things I always do with eggs and I am wondering if they are "magical thinking" routines.

1. I wash the egg in shell before cracking it.

2. I smell the cracked egg before introducing it into a recipe or even the fry pan. It should have no discernible smell.

I grew up with a father who had a day job but farmed as a hobby. We had chickens. I love chickens as critters and I love chickens as food sources. I tend to think of chicken eggs as one of the world's most perfect foods. We kept eggs on the kitchen counter, not in the refrigerator, as I was growing up.

Previously [1] [2].

Should I stop washing and sniffing?
posted by maggieb to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Um, yes. I never have done this. Of course if this habit brings you some degree of comfort and peace, there is no reason to stop now. At the least you are washing chicken shit off of the shells you won't eat. But no purpose is being served beyond a personal, mental, one.
posted by dawson at 5:52 PM on February 22, 2009

They wash the eggs before packing them.

As to the smelling, if an egg is bad you'll know it immediately. The smell will be overpowering; you won't need to hold it close to smell the corruption.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:53 PM on February 22, 2009

USDA rules that dictate washing the egg solve one problem (the salmonella and other nasty stuff is generally on the *outside*) by introducing another one (we now need to refrigerate the eggs since the protective coating is now washed off).

The best thing you can do is to wash the eggs right before using them, and to crack them on a flat surface so as not to push the bacteria into the contents.
posted by kcm at 5:55 PM on February 22, 2009

If you're fully cooking an egg you really don't need to be washing it, debatable if you're cooking it over easy or sunny side up as each leaves a significant amount of egg uncooked. Modern factory chicken farms, as many problems as they have, have been enormously successful at eliminating salmonella and other pathogens on a wide scale from both chickens and eggs.

If you're buying eggs in a normal grocery store or even from a reputable local vendor they're unlikely to be more than a few weeks old to a few days old depending on the vendor, and therefore quite fresh. I've been eating both locally raise and store bought eggs for almost thirty years without even a hint of a rotten egg. That said, two seconds of sniffing isn't going to ruin any recipe, so if it comforts you why not?
posted by Science! at 5:57 PM on February 22, 2009

Best answer: Do you know what salmonella smells like? That's a trick question, because salmonella doesn't have a discernible smell. The eggs are washed and supposedly sanitized when they are processed.

If the egg is rotten, you won't have to really sniff it to know. The stench of its rottenness will announce itself.

Either way, it's harmless to sniff and wash. If it helps you enjoy your scramble, then go for it.
posted by 26.2 at 5:59 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jacques Pepin always insists that you crack your egg on a flat surface. He says that minimizes introducing contaminants from the shell into the white and yolk. Maybe so.

Sniffing the newly cracked egg--it isn't for salmonella, since your nose can't detect that--but for other kinds of off-ness. I sniff just about everything I cook. It's another sensory input that can be of use.

When I was growing up we didn't refrigerate eggs, just kept them in a cool dry dark place--the attic steps actually. We used mostly grade b eggs back then. We ate a lot of them!

I still like to eat raw eggs, beaten until just foamy with a bit of sugar. But now I use pasteurised eggs for that--and also for making mayo.

I agree with others who say washing is of doubtful use since the eggs are washed before packing. If you have the time to wash your eggs and the desire to, if it makes you feel better, do so by all means. Eggs are beautiful!
posted by subatomiczoo at 6:11 PM on February 22, 2009

I usually open the carton and smell before I buy eggs - even if I detect a smell that's not 'rotten' eggy, but smells funny, I usually choose another. It can't hurt. I am a firm believer in trusting my nose when it comes to food.

Eggs can sit around for quite a while before and when they reach the supermarket shelf. So, I usually check the pack date (scroll down, item 3) on the carton too .

As for the washing, it makes sense if the salmonella is on the outside of the shell and I guess is especially important if you (and I do) separate eggs by passing the yolk back and forth between the shell halves. I am told that it's a real no-no to do it that way, but I still do it. I guess I'll wash them eggs now before I separate them.
posted by nnk at 6:17 PM on February 22, 2009

uh. "I guess I'll wash them now before . . . "
posted by nnk at 6:18 PM on February 22, 2009

I've always heard that washing eggs is a bad idea because the protective layer gets washed off and germs are actually more likely to get passed into the inside through the porous shell. I just looked it up to confirm, and it seems that here in Germany selling washed eggs is in fact not allowed for that reason (at least concerning "standard" supermarket eggs).

Of course, that might be a moot point if they are routinely washed in the US before they end up on the shelves... but I still wouldn't wash them a second time. Can't harm to sniff, though :)
posted by Skybly at 6:38 PM on February 22, 2009

Washing an egg makes about as much sense as washing a banana before peeling.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:49 PM on February 22, 2009

The eggs are washed and then coated with mineral oil to recreate the protective coating.

There's no harm in washing your eggs right before you use them. If you washed them when you brought them home and then let them sit in the fridge, then yes, they would no longer have protection from the elements and "things" would seep through the porous shell.

But salmonella's not the only thing on the shell -- think of all the people who could have touched your eggs, after picking their nose, going to the bathroom without washing their hands (e. coli, anyone?), etc. And things on the shell will get into the egg when you crack them; a flat surface will only minimize this.

I say that if you're washing your eggs before using them, you're statistically less likely to get sick than those who don't.
posted by thebazilist at 6:57 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What could possibly be wrong with washing your eggs before you crack them? That said, you might be interested to know the egg-transmitted salmonella that's common today isn't a matter of fecal contamination at all. Salmonella enteritidis silently infects the ovaries of healthy-appearing hens and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed. According to the CDC, approximately one in 10,000 eggs from the Northeast may be internally contaminated. 1 in 50 people are exposed to a bad egg each year, and if you eat at restaurants that pool eggs, your risk goes up to 1 in 20.

All you can do is cook them thoroughly, keep your immune system up, and hope for the best.

I use eggs past the expiration date as long as they pass the "float" test: the closer they are to staying put in the bottom of the pan, the better.
posted by aquafortis at 6:57 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know folks who give their eggs a brief rinse. Even though eggs are washed, you do still occasionally find some that still have crap stuck to them. As to the smelling, I can't see how that will help you in any way.
posted by scarello at 7:00 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I sniff almost everything I'm going to eat. I am a little paranoid about food safety. On the upside, I've only had food poisoning once in 33 years.
posted by Maisie Jay at 7:11 PM on February 22, 2009

...and yet I do not wash the eggs.
posted by Maisie Jay at 7:13 PM on February 22, 2009

I say that if you're washing your eggs before using them, you're statistically less likely to get sick than those who don't.

Then you should have some statistics to back this up, yes?

I don't think washing eggs before you crack them at home makes the least bit of difference here in the United States. If it makes you feel better then by all means keep doing so but it is certainly not in any way necessary.
posted by Justinian at 7:32 PM on February 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

My grandfather, a biochemist, wipes his eggs down with Windex before cracking them. He's 89 and has never had salmonella. YMMV.

In any case, these behaviors seem relatively benign. Unless you absolutely *can't* eat eggs without going through this process (which might suggest OCD), I think you're fine.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:04 PM on February 22, 2009

You could play it safe and boil them...
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 8:17 PM on February 22, 2009

I'm really curious what this "protective coating" is that everyone is talking about. The only coating I've ever seen on a fresh egg is chicken shit, and you better believe we washed those right away.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:55 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Light Fantastic--the "protective coating" is referred to as a cuticle. My understanding is that it's a clear coating that's produced by the same gland that produces the eggshell. The cuticle functions to somewhat seal the pores of the eggshell, which reduces the likelyhood that bacteria will enter the egg. That cuticle is removed when the eggs are washed.

If you want more information on the cuticle, I've just found this book [Google Books link] that covers the subject in a great deal of depth. (Warning: There are a few pages missing. That said, the book sells for $255, so I'll deal with a few missing pages.)
posted by MeghanC at 10:15 PM on February 22, 2009

When I lived at a house with chickens, we always washed the eggs after bringing them in to get the chicken poop, feathers, and so forth off of them. Maybe you got your habit from your grandfather?
posted by salvia at 12:55 AM on February 23, 2009

Unless these eggs are coming straight from a nest, there's really no need to wash them before cracking them (unless there's something obvious on them -- I don't buy eggs at the store that have anything obvious on them). The ones at the store are washed, sanitized, and lightly coated with oil before being shipped.

A bad egg will smell like a bad egg without any sniffing required. The best eggs I ever get are farm fresh, free range eggs, and they have a smell. They smell like raw egg. Store bought eggs seem to have no smell to me, and they also seem to taste less like an egg.

But, if it makes you happy and less concerned to wash and sniff, then go ahead and do so. I'm sure if I thought about it, I have some useless cooking habits others would think were silly or odd too, but they make me feel content, so no harm in doing them.
posted by Orb at 6:06 AM on February 23, 2009

We buy cage-free/free-range/grain-fed/organic/magic/whatever eggs and some of them have some poop left on the shells. If I see poop, or otherwise if I remember I give each one a quick rinse before cracking it. I've heard not to immerse them as this can push stuff on the outside of the shell to the inside. I guess this means any egg maybe should be washed before being boiled whole? (Depending on how long you'll boil it.)

I don't sniff my eggs; I tend to agree with those who've said if it's bad you'll smell it without trying. My parents did (try to) teach me to crack and check each egg individually before putting the lot of them together (like when scrambling).
posted by attercoppe at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2009

For what it's worth, Mark Bittman says to rinse eggs.
posted by Airhen at 6:29 PM on February 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers! Every answer was on point.

FYI or like [more inside]: I buy store eggs mostly: some are reg, some are free-range. Once in a great while I get to purchase a dozen eggs from a family farm. If I get my druthers, I like brown eggs best. Wherever they come from I store them UNWASHED in my refrigerator. I only wash them off just before I use them. I will probably keep on doing that.

Thanks so much for the salmonella info... that my habits are insignificant in preventing same. I won't stop eating eggs but I like knowing the facts.

About sniffing eggs: Just let me say........................... ha ha ha ha ha ha...

I guess I have never found a rotten egg from any source whatsoever. I plan to give less attention to the sniff test.

Thanks again.
posted by maggieb at 6:53 PM on February 28, 2009

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