Are Your Store's Eggs Refrigerated?

Eggs salmonella

Many readers may be following the story in the U.S. about an epidemic of stomach infections from eggs contaminated with salmonella bacteria. This bacteria can live both inside and outside eggs, which otherwise may look perfectly normal. The main way to prevent such outbreaks is for the chicken farms to prevent rodents and other animals from contaminating the chicken coops; also, pasteurizing can destroy the bacteria. Otherwise, for consumers, the key is to assume that your eggs have bacteria and thus to always fully cook your eggs; those of you who like your eggs sunny-side up or a bit runny (like me) are taking a risk. The next best prevention is to prevent the bacteria from growing, which is why all eggs should be refrigerated — at all times.

Refrigeration — from the farm to the store to the kitchen — is common practice in the U.S., but I have only seen one market here in China put any eggs in cold storage (my local April Gourmet). The eggs usually sit in enormous piles in supermarket center aisles; even the joint venture megamarkets Walmart and Carrefour are strangely unaware of the obvious food safety dangers.

Since it’s apparently almost impossible in China to buy refrigerated eggs, Beijingers should be even more vigilant with proper handling and cooking; here are the main safety tips from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Salmonella from Eggs):

  • Keep eggs refrigerated at ≤ 45° F (≤7° C) at all times.
  • Discard cracked or dirty eggs.
  • Wash hands, cooking utensils, and food preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.
  • Eggs should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are firm and eaten promptly after cooking.
  • Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
  • Refrigerate unused or leftover egg-containing foods promptly.
  • Avoid eating raw eggs.
  • Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that calls for raw eggs.
  • Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.

You can read more about egg safety at the excellent foodsafety.org website; they also have a handy guide to egg storage (ie how long different egg products can last in the fridge or freezer).

Followup, September 3rd…

Since the above post was published, I’ve been getting some interesting feedback from readers, and it does indeed seem that most countries typically do not refrigerate their eggs, including most of Europe. Is that true, readers? The US, Canada and Australia seem to now require this; perhaps one of the main problems actually is the production methods in the US, where gigantic chicken farms and cages are a breeding ground for salmonella. Also, apparently most countries’ egg suppliers are closer to markets than in the US, and many countries also do not initially wash off all eggs, thus preserving that outer layer. So maybe it’s the industrial process that necessitates refrigerator use. But in all cases, I still saw a general consensus, including from egg councils, that eggs last longer when refrigerated. Egg cartons in China also say this: many cartons mention a shelf-life of 30 days at room temperature and 45 days in the refrigerator.


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14 thoughts on “Are Your Store's Eggs Refrigerated?”

  1. From a reader:

    For your info Doc, been in China for a long time.

    I usually eat my eggs raw with juices. NEVER have gotten sick one time. I eat 2-4 raw eggs at a time. Been doing it for years.
    I do keep my eggs refrigerated.
    I only buy "organically" grown eggs.
    And only buy eggs dated within 3-4 days of when I buy them, fresh eggs.
    And I hope my eggs are dirty on the outside, (you can read about importance of NOT cleaning eggs before they are distributed probably on Mercola's webpage or others).
    If I ever did get sick I would take probiotics right away and other things I have on hand. I am not concerned about it. More concerned about dirty smoggy air and mis-information.
    And I do have my last ticket, it is free for the asking.
    I doubt you will post this but maybe you will for a difference of opinion.
    And glad doctors are in business in case I need surgery since naturopaths are not legally allowed to do surgery, but then this is China and who cares.

    For your info, O Jia Li

  2. In my home country I worked on a farm. Chicken eggs were never refrigerated at the farm or on delivery to a processing plant. Reason? Changing the temperature at which the eggs are stored helps propagate the growth of salmonella. Yes, being chilled slows the growth to a crawl. Problem is as soon as eggs hit room temp again it acts to the bacteria like an incubator.

    My home country is the United States. I would be interested to know the storage history of the recalled eggs. Did they change temperature more then once?

    As for washing the eggs you are kind of correct. They should not be cleaned at the farm or at any time before cooking. Rubbing dirt off is obviously OK. Do not get them wet or use any agents to clean them as they are porous and can absorb both the bacteria and the cleaning agent. However, JUST BEFORE cooking them it is recommended to clean your eggs. At this stage you are not trying to keep the bacteria from getting into the egg. You are about to break it anyway. But where are you setting them? What else is using the same surface as the uncracked eggs? Most importantly, are you cracking them directly into the food? Ever get shell in your food by mistake? Do you think the egg never touches the outside of the shell when you crack it? Wash your eggs. Just only wash your eggs right before using them.

    Refrigerated eggs have a shelf life of about 2 weeks after purchasing from the grocery. Non-refrigerated eggs have a shelf life of about 4 weeks after purchasing from the grocery. Why do you think that is?

    1. Thanks for the insight. As for your data: the official shelf life from the US government (see last link above for foodsafety.gov) states a 3-5 week refrigerator life, not the 2 weeks you mention. There's not even an option for non-refrigeration, so this is the standard for the US.

      Perhaps it's different in other countries? What about in Europe? What does everyone think? Is this just an American overreaction, or is it a real issue?

  3. I had a Spanish roommate here in China for several months. Her first trip into the kitchen she was very bewildered to find the eggs in the refrigerator. She was used to keeping them in a basket on the kitchen counter. She was also aghast to find that I used these eggs when they were 2 weeks old. "How could eggs ever keep so long?" she asked. She would not use eggs that were more than a week old. So for her, unrefrigerated eggs, less than one week old, were the norm. However, as my husband is also Spanish, I have observed in his home that his mom does not refrigerate her eggs (they come from a northern province where temps are never as high as the rest of Spain), BUT his sister-in-law does, so there is great variation. As for the stores, I do remember seeing some egg cartons in the refrigerated section of Carrefour, but I do not recall what the procedure was in the small supermarkets and specialty stores.

  4. We can blame Factory Farming practices on the existence of salmonella, not the lack of refrigeration.

    Force feeding, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and widespread antibiotics abuse greatly increase the risk of salmonella. Healthy Hens, who are not force-molted, are at very low risk of salmonella infection to begin with.

    The U.S. has horrendous farming practices. It is also possible to test "flocks" for chronic salmonella infections- in conditions that close, when one gets sick they all get sick (all meaning hundreds of thousands, crammed into warehouses 6-9 hens on top of each other in tiny cages, extending for two city blocks…)

    This is a great article: "How Egg Industry Greed Caused the Salmonella Outbreak" here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-robbins/are-yo

    "There have been nine scientific studies published on the [salmonella] issue in the last five years in peer-reviewed journals. Every single one of them has found increased salmonella rates in eggs coming from facilities that confine hens in cages."

    So basically the U.S. is one of the only countries refrigerating their eggs at all. We in the U.S. appear to be covering up nasty farming practices, and ongoing infections of salmonella simply by refrigerating the eggs. The degree of Salmonella in eggs I bet is much lower in most European, Asian and local-supply (as opposed to Corporate Owned, Traveling-Long Distances, and Factory Farmed).

  5. Can you give me the name of free range egg company in Beijing? I buy mine from Lohau Organics in Shunyi but are there any others?

  6. The difference between refrigeration standards in Europe and the U.S. is due to the production regulations. In Europe, the EU requires ALL chickens to be vaccinated for Salmonella; however, the USDA does NOT require chickens to be vaccinated, and only about 1/3 of producers do so voluntarily. Thus, the regulation for taking eggs to market in the U.S. states that eggs must be refrigerated at all times, whereas in Europe, the regulation states that the eggs must NEVER be refrigerated prior to reaching the final consumer endpoint. The reason for the “never” regulation is that the EU is working from a starting point of eggs that are not likely to be contaminated at the outset, thus, refrigeration followed by warming to room temperature results in condensation that BECOMES a breeding ground for trace Salmonella.

    So that’s it in an eggshell; the rules are different at the endpoint because the production process is different at the outset. 🙂

    1. Fascinating! Thanks so much for the information…this begs the question, what about here in China, are all chickens vaccinated against Salmonella? I would think not, but does anyone know for sure? And if we weren’t sure about vaccination status, then wouldn’t the prudent move be to always keep eggs refrigerated in China? I would think so…

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