Do Americans really have to refrigerate their eggs?

Photo credit to Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit to Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Sklar
BU News Service

An American walks into a British grocery store and sees eggs stacked on unrefrigerated shelves next to canned vegetables and other non-perishables. ” Is this unhealthy?” the American might wonder. In the U.S., by law, eggs are always refrigerated in commercial markets. But do we need to require that if England doesn’t?

Put simply, we do, because our eggs follow a different pre-market journey. In America — as well as Japan, Australia, and Scandinavia — eggs are washed before they’re sold, a practice that is illegal in England and most other countries.

Globally, the main health concern when it comes to selling eggs is Salmonella, a meat- and poultry-borne bacterium that most notably causes diarrhea. The bacterium can work its way inside eggs from a hen’s ovaries before being laid, or from coming in contact with surfaces contaminated with fecal matter after they are laid.

Luckily, eggs are endowed with an outer cuticle layer that can stop bacteria from entering the shell. Although the layer is not 100 percent effective, hens in England are also vaccinated against Salmonella. Together, the cuticle and the vaccination create safe eggs that don’t need refrigeration. American chickens, on the other hand, are not vaccinated. Without the vaccination, the USDA believes the cuticle layer doesn’t offer enough protection on its own, so it is washed off entirely, along with any contaminants that may be stuck to the outside of the shell. The egg is then sanitized with chlorine, dried completely, and kept in a constant temperature of about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other countries don’t find this ordeal worth it, and put their effort into starting off with clean eggs and healthy chickens. So, Americans, you may continue to defer to Europe for your fashion inspiration, your Nutella crepes, and your soccer, but unless you start vaccinating your chickens, you should stay star-spangled when it comes to refrigerating your eggs.

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