Ever been to a European supermarket? You probably noticed that the eggs aren’t stored in the refrigerated section, but along with the non-perishable stuff on the shelves. But before you say, “what gives?” and relocate your egg carton to your countertop, there are a few caveats you should know about. Do eggs need to be refrigerated? Well, it’s complicated.
Is It Safe to Leave Eggs Out?
If you live in the United States or another country that washes its eggs, sadly, nope. It’s all about how they’re cleaned and processed. In some European countries like the U.K. and France, hens are mass-vaccinated by law to prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses in eggs and poultry, like salmonella. This essentially eliminates one of two ways salmonella is spread, through the hen’s reproductive tract (the other is through exposure to poop after being laid). So, the human risk for salmonella is impressively low in the U.K., while it’s much higher in the U.S.
In the U.S., vaccination isn’t mandated. Instead, egg processors are required to follow FDA standards for sanitation, testing and refrigeration. Eggs are washed and sanitized before being packaged and refrigerated basically as soon as they’re collected. And once they’re chilled, they need to stay that way. That means you have no choice but to keep them in the fridge as long as they’re American eggs; cold eggs left out start to sweat and grow bacteria. This is also the case in Australia, Japan, New Zealand and parts of Scandinavia.
Because washing harms the cuticle or bloom of the egg (an outer protective layer of the shell), it’s more susceptible to bacterial contamination. That’s where refrigeration comes in: it doesn’t kill or reduce bacteria but instead keeps it from penetrating the egg and prevents new bacteria from growing.
How to Make Eggs Last
It may seem like we’re doing a lot of extra work. But here’s one perk: Refrigeration stretches a raw egg’s shelf life from one to three weeks to four to five. According to the USDA, once-refrigerated eggs shouldn’t be left at room temperature for longer than two hours or at 90°F or higher for longer than one hour. Here’s how to make your eggs last as long as possible:
- Don’t attempt to wash store-bought eggs. That will up the risk for contamination, as eggshells have pores that can absorb the water and other bacteria.
- Check the dozen before you buy. Cracked eggs let bacteria in. And if you’re in the U.S., only buy eggs that are refrigerated.
- Keep eggs in the coldest part of your fridge, not on the door. Keeping them on the door subjects them to fluctuating temperatures.
- For high-fat recipes like cheesecake, cold eggs can harden the fat, resulting in a lumpy batter. Leave them on the counter or in a bowl of lukewarm water for a half hour before you use them, rather than storing them on the countertop.
- Room-temperature eggs also work best for recipes that call for beating eggs or egg whites into foam like meringue. (Warm eggs = more volume.) Separate the yolks from the whites if needed while the egg is still cold, then let the whites come to room temperature before beating them.
- If you have a lot of eggs that you fear will go to waste, you can freeze them—but not in their shells, according to the FDA. Beat the whites and yolks together, or just the whites. They’ll keep in the freezer for a year.
How to Tell an Egg Is Expired
We’re big fans of the famous water test. Fill a bowl or glass with enough cold water to submerge the egg without it overflowing. Drop the egg in the water. If it sinks, it’s fresh. If it’s on the way to expiration, it’ll bob somewhere in the middle. If it’s old, it’ll float. That’s because air enters the egg as it ages.
But just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s necessarily unsafe to eat, says the USDA. To check if an egg is spoiled, crack it into a bowl and look for a strange smell or appearance. Rotten eggs will smell bad whether they’re raw or cooked, so you’ll be able to tell.
What About Fresh Eggs?
If your eggs aren’t from the supermarket or a mass distributor, there’s a chance they weren’t washed and processed the same way. If you have your own chickens or get eggs from a local farm, the cuticle is most likely left intact and keeps the eggs protected outside the refrigerator. If your eggs are independently sourced and haven’t been power washed, they’re safe to leave out. If you see dirt or feces on the egg, just give it a quick rinse right before you use it. And remember, once it goes in the fridge, it has to stay there. Don’t store it there unless you’re ready to commit.
Substitutes for Eggs
While there’s no exact replacement, there are plenty of easy swaps for eggs that can work in a pinch. Here are some substitutes we trust:
Best for Baking: Mashed Banana
This will give moisture and sweetness to any treat. It’ll also add a little of its flavor, so keep that in mind before you try it. Substitute a ¼ cup for each egg, or about half a banana.
Best for Binding: Flax “Eggs”
Use this for whole-grain baked goods like bread. The nutty flavor will blend in flawlessly. Combine 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds and 3 tablespoons of water per egg in a food processor. Let it thicken for five minutes before adding it to your recipe.
Best Disguise: Unsweetened Applesauce
This will give you all the moisture of banana without any of the flavor. It disappears into baked goods seamlessly. Use a ¼ cup in place of each egg.
Best for Whipping: Aquafaba
What’s aquafaba? It’s the liquid you drain from a can of chickpeas. It might sound weird, but throw it in a mixer or have at it with a whisk and you’ll get sturdy fluff that you can use to make everything from mayonnaise to macarons.