Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How To Wash Eggs...Again

So, I'm a dork! In case you didn't already know that...here's some added evidence for the repertoire. I actually wrote this blog for Community Chickens, it was to be my first December blog. After researching the internet, profusely taking notes, and reading through the 56 page, boring USDA egg safety manual, and re- researching the importance of "exciting" things like iron content and it's effect on egg shells, and water sanitation and relative temperature, the disinfectant qualities of vinegar when diluted, etc...Where I should have started the research was on the Community Chickens website, "...they already got one". 
You see, I was picking labels for this blog, to categorize it in the "search option" and noticed there was already an "egg safety" label. Well, that's convenient (I thought to myself, still not getting it) I clicked on it to find that someone has already covered the subject of "How to Wash Eggs" quite extensively for that matter, and frankly...better than I have, thank you very much! The article is not on the blog, but on their main site. Of course I found this after, I had written the following. I should have known that with an awesome site like Community Chickens, that someone would have covered the topic, especially with the recent Salmonella scare. Duh! 
So while I won't be posting this on Community Chickens site, I thought you all might want to read what I found, (I think at this point I just want anyone to read it, even if it did end up being regurgitated nonsense!) ~Enjoy

 Before writing this post I did some research to find the "proper way" to wash an egg. I know how my family does it, but never really thought about safety standards and things of that nature. What I found was that there are as many methods and opinions on this matter as there are chicken enthusiasts. So I'll start with the "experts". The USDA gives guidelines that are probably ideal, however, their methods are intended for large commercial distributors. They discuss measuring the internal temperature of the egg in comparison to the wash water, as well as the measurable iron content. In short, it and leaves room for interpretation from the backyard hobby farmer. So what's an omelet lover to do?

I guess I can't give advice as to how to wash your eggs, as how we do it was just as different as any other method I've found. But I can tell you some of the things that most people agree on as a safe bet, and I'll share with everyone what we do. It seems to work for us as we've never had a problem, but there is always extra measures you can take.

The problem with eggs is that the egg shell is porous, meaning it has tiny microscopic pores all over the shell. When the hen lays the egg her body coats it with a layer that dries and blocks these pores. This layer called the "bloom" is what keeps bacteria from entering the egg and causing it to spoil. This is why an unwashed egg can be stored at room temperature for a quite a long period of time, where a washed egg has to be refrigerated right away. When the egg is washed the protective layer is removed and bacteria is able to pass into the egg more freely. (As a side note, I've heard that many of the eggs you purchase at the grocery store can be upwards to thirty days old with a two week expiration date on top of that.) The argument comes in the delicate balance of removing the bacteria on the outside of the egg, without it being drawn into the egg through the pores.

Most people agree that eggs should be washed in water that is significantly warmer than the temperature of the egg. This, it seems, forces the pores open and the egg's content pushes outward on the egg shell. Cooler water would cause the pores to shrink and as they suction closed they also suck in what ever is on the outside of the egg, including bacteria. The USDA recommends 20 degrees warmer than the internal temperature of the egg. Though ideal, without complicated equipment, this would seem difficult to accomplish as it would be hard to determine the exact temperature of an egg through it's shell, and accommodate the water 20 degrees hotter for each egg. Hmmm?

It is also agreed that it's not a good idea to soak eggs for any period of time, as the stagnant water would allow bacteria to pass more freely through the egg pores. Continuously moving, warm water seems to be the method of choice.

Beyond this point, it seems to be a "pick your poison" sort of an argument, where you have to ask yourself, what are you more afraid of, germs or chemicals? Some people don't wash their eggs at all with a "God made dirt..." sort of attitude, some only wash "dirty eggs" with visible stains or debris. Some wash all eggs with water, some with soap, some with vinegar, some with bleach water, some with a different combination of these. Some forgo water all together and use sand paper to sand off dry debris. But the sanding method isn't always ideal because with fresh eggs comes fresh droppings, and...well...you do the math.      

You can also purchase special egg cleaning solutions designed for egg sanitation. This is recommended for commercial egg sales especially. There are also several models of egg cleaning devices. Some use sprayers, where some use a bubbler and as the bubbles pass over the eggs the dirt is removed.

With this in mind, I'm going to share with you what my family does. For those of you just starting with laying hens, only you can decide what is the best method for you and your family and their safety.

The process starts at the coupe. We have twenty one egg boxes available to our hens, they are exactly the same as far as I can tell, but there must be some magical quality to some of the boxes in particular that we humans are unaware, because all our hens seem to prefer a few certain boxes, and completely ignore the others. Go figure? I try to keep the boxes, especially those "special" few, as clean and fresh as possible by changing out the wood shavings regularly. We also provide our chickens with additional perches via a wooden ladder. It provides several roosts, in a compact area, away from the nesting boxes. They all line up snuggled into the rungs and the angle of the ladder helps them from pooping on each other.

Even if an egg appears to be clean, I wash it anyway, regardless of visible dirt. I see it this way, if something I'm going to eat has been in a coupe with chickens sitting on it, while I love my chickens, they're chickens, their idea of keeping clean is filling their feathers with dirt.

I collect our eggs in wire baskets and bring them up to the house into the kitchen. I place the baskets on newspaper on the kitchen counter. I fill one side of the sink with hot water and glug in a good amount of white vinegar. I don't measure, just pour until the steam rises up and I can smell vinegar strongly. In the other side of the sink I keep the water running on warm, making sure it is noticeably hotter than the egg. I have a sponge with a scrubby side, designated for egg cleaning only that I suds up with soap. I rinse the egg under the warm running water to loosen any dried dirt, then I scrub with the soapy sponge until the egg feels smooth. Then I rinse again. Then I dip the egg in the vinegar water for a couple of seconds, then rinse again. I lay a clean towel out and let the eggs dry. They are placed into recycled egg cartons and dated, then placed into the refrigerator. We get enough eggs where we can fill a carton at a time, but if you don't get that many eggs, you can date each egg with a crayon. I don't keep eggs over two weeks, but that is mostly because we either eat them or give them away before that.

A note on vinegar, I use vinegar water as a disinfect rinse on my eggs, it cleans a satisfactory amount of germs for my peace of mind. However, I couldn't find the actual germ killing percentage when vinegar is diluted with hot water as I do. I did read one site that claimed that when vinegar was used on surfaces full strength, then followed by hydrogen peroxide, it had a similar disinfecting effect as bleach. If you are really worried about sanitation, you might want to research one of the other disinfectants available.

What it all comes down to is use common sense, do your research, decide what you're comfortable, and be consistent.

50 comments:

Michelle said...

I guess I never realized how much work getting the eggs were...thanks for sharing

Jennifer Sartell said...

It might sounds like a kerbundle when you write out the steps, but when you get going with a bunch of eggs at once, it's pretty fast work.

barbara Clark said...

Thank you for this, I have not used hot water for fear of it starting the cooking process. I feel much better now, I also use vinegar for cleaning and have for years. On Good Morning America years ago they had Heloise on and she advocated using vinegar to clean. The Good Housekeeping Institute did a study and showed that vinegar did as well as bleach for germ killing, no mention of peroxide. Thank you for taking the time to research all of this. Will look up the articles for making my own vinegar. I make a cleaner using orange peels and vinegar, put them in large jar and sit for 10 days. I put the peelings on the weeds so get multiple use.

Patt8 said...

Loved your article and I am sure all the time you spent on it was so worth it for me!!! I have just normally taken our eggs and ran them quickly under hotter water and then let them dry.so far so good...I like the vinegar uses too,it is a good old favorite!!! Thanks! Pat

Anonymous said...

The chickens will lay eggs where they see eggs. I guess they see and egg and think "I guess this is where I'm supposed to lay an egg". Try putting some plastic "fill an egg" Easter eggs (yes, the bright colored plastic ones) in various nest boxes. You'll be shocked when everyone starts going in the boxes with the plastic eggs to lay! Even try moving them around to different nest boxes, and watch them switch to that box.

Anonymous said...

Hello, thanks for the good advice I will be doing that to my eggs. What kind of soap do I use? I am using anonymous because I don't use any of those profiles.

Kimmie

Roberta Augustini said...

Thanks for all your time and effort. I've been using dish detergent, warm water. I don't clean eggs till I use them, keep them on counter, usually for 3-4 days max, there's rarely a smudge of mess on one. My 93 year old mother washes if she feels like it, difficult to tell her she should do anything different as she's lived far longer than many of us will! Stubborn woman!

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