Do Eggs Actually Need to be Refrigerated?

The answer depends on where you live.

brown eggs in carton
Photo: HUIZENG HU/Getty Images

I was lucky enough to score some fresh eggs recently by way of friends who were on vacation, and their chickens needed to be fed. The reward for tending to the chickens was super fresh eggs from just a few blocks away. When my son and his friend returned with eggs one evening, they asked if they should put them in the refrigerator.

Yes or no?

If you have traveled to European countries and shopped in local markets, you may notice one item that is not sold the same way as it is in the United States: a carton of eggs. We shop for this kitchen staple in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, where we can also find gallons of milk and sticks of butter — but a market in England or France will likely have the eggs shelved next to dry storage items like beans and rice. That's right, no refrigerators.

In the U.S., Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and parts of Scandinavia, shoppers will find eggs in the chilled dairy case. So what gives?

Do You Have to Refrigerate Eggs?

Proper storage of eggs is important because they are one of the leading causes of the food-borne illness Salmonella.There are two ways that an egg can become infected with salmonella, which is the bacteria identified as the cause for "salmonellosis."

An egg can be laid with traces of bacteria already in the shell. This usually occurs when the hen is already infected with salmonella and then lays an egg.Salmonella can also find a way into the shell after the egg is laid. In this case, the egg comes into contact with bacteria from outside conditions if the outer layer of the shell, called the cuticle, is damaged or cracked.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has determined that the best way to keep eggs safe for consumption and avoid salmonella contamination is to sanitize the eggs for shipment and sale for the consumer. Thus, eggs being sold for consumption are washed thoroughly, packaged, and refrigerated immediately before the cartons are shipped to the store, where they are required to remain refrigerated by law. It is recommended that consumers refrigerate their eggs upon bringing them home.

Countries where storing eggs at room temperature is the norm have different approaches to preventing contamination. For example, in many European countries, egg-laying hens are vaccinated against salmonella as a preventative measure. Therefore, eggs aren't washed, which means the cuticle remains untampered with, which eliminates the need for refrigeration.

How Long do Eggs Last in the Refrigerator?

In 1970, the USDA perfected the system of washing eggs with machines and it became a requirement for all commercial producers of eggs. After the eggs are washed, they start the chain of refrigeration for shipping and storage.

Washing the eggs gets them clean, but it also removes the outer layer, or cuticle, which acts as a natural barrier for the inside of the egg. This makes refrigeration an important piece of the supply chain to avoid salmonella or other bacterial growth.

Refrigeration for the eggs must be maintained throughout the whole line of production from farm to store. If it is discontinued at any point, and the eggs are left in a warm environment, they will begin to sweat and create condensation on the outside of the eggs which creates a risk of mold or contamination.

When the eggs are purchased by you, the consumer, they should be stored in your refrigerator. The shelf life of properly refrigerated eggs is approximately 45 to 50 days.

Do Hard-Boiled Eggs Need to Be Refrigerated?

Hard-boiled eggs are a popular recipe preparation for tossed green salads, side dishes like potato salad, and deviled eggs. A hard-boiled egg is one that has been heated in the shell in boiling water until both the inside white and yellow yolk are solid.

Hard-boiled eggs need to be refrigerated. It is not safe to keep hard-boiled eggs at room temperature for long. Refrigeration is necessary if they will not be consumed within a few hours.

The best practice for food safety and consumption is to store them in the refrigerator after they have been boiled. If hard-boiled eggs are left out at room temperature for an extended amount of time there is the risk for bacteria to begin to grow.

How Long Do Hard-Boiled Eggs Last in the Refrigerator?

Maybe you are getting ready for a party and want to get a head start on a dish that calls for hard-boiled eggs. You can make the hard-boiled eggs and hold them in the refrigerator to have them ready for your recipe.

The best way to store hard-boiled eggs is to keep them in a covered container in the refrigerator. If the eggs have been peeled, be sure to keep them covered with a damp paper towel before placing them in storage.

As a general food safety rule, hard-boiled eggs can be stored safely in the refrigerator for up to seven days.

When you take hard-boiled eggs to a picnic or pack a lunch, be sure to keep the eggs in a cool place until they can be eaten. Don't ever leave food with hard-boiled eggs in the sun or in contact with a heat source. Always make sure to dispose of any leftover hard-boiled eggs.

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