This is especially evident during wet seasons, when the homestead tend to be muddy. But the mess on chicken eggs isn't always just mud. Often, there's poop involved, too.
This happens for several reasons. One is that chickens, like all birds, poop on the go - so sometimes they step in their poop, or the poop of one of their sisters. In addition, some hens will poop in the nesting box, or may have manure on her rear end that didn't fall off. (Hey, we're homesteaders, here; there's no use being squeamish on the topic!) Some of these things can be controlled at least somewhat by homesteaders; click here for my tips on getting cleaner eggs from your hens.
But then there's the inescapable fact that the physical passage used for egg laying is the very same one used for pooping. (My husband once had a friend who'd recently bought backyard hens. He loved them...that is, until my husband happened to mention the above fact. The friend was so grossed out by this, he gave away his hens...But he still eats store bought eggs!)
Now, obviously we don't want to get any of that poop in our food. And the natural inclination is to clean those dirty eggs as soon as we collect them...but that inclination is, in my opinion, WRONG.
Why Egg Washing is Bad
You see, eggs naturally have a protective coating, called "bloom," that prevents bacteria from entering the egg shell. This is God's creative way of keeping chicks healthy enough to hatch - and humans healthy enough they can continue to eat eggs. As soon as you wash eggs, that bloom is typically removed - and the part of the egg you eat is now totally exposed to lurking bacteria.
What About Store Bought Eggs?
Why do store bought eggs look so clean? It's certainly not because of the crowded, dirty environment commercial hens are raised in. Instead, it's because those eggs are washed before going to market.
Yep, you read that right.
The FDA requires all commercially sold eggs to be washed in detergent. A fact, by the way, that would make them illegal for sale throughout the European Union. Because Europeans understand that washing away the egg's bloom makes it easier for bacteria to enter the egg and make humans sick.
|THIS is what real backyard eggs look like.|
Once upon a time, American farmers applied mineral oil to egg shells after washing, in order to create a sort of artificial bloom. This is rarely done today.
To add insult to injury, commercial American eggs are always refrigerated. But refrigeration can lead to condensation, which can lead to bacterial growth.
What About Farmer's Market Eggs?
Rules about the sale of eggs at farmer's markets and similar venues varies from state to state. But generally speaking, small market farmers are not expected to wash eggs the way large commercial farms are. Instead, they are usually allowed to simply sort through their eggs and not sell dirty ones, or use a brush or sandpaper to gently remove dirt from eggs, or lightly and quickly dampen the eggs to make dirt removal easier. Sometimes, however, small farm eggs are washed by hand, using FDA approved detergents.
How I Handle Our Eggs
|I don't really take our egg cartons out to the hen house :)|
Though we've had backyard hens for many years, and though I grew up with chickens, I am not an expert and the law says you should not take my advice as you would that of a scientist.
But I can tell you that on our homestead, dirty eggs go into egg cartons, and then straight into the fridge. When I'm ready to cook the eggs, I wash them immediately beforehand. (How to wash eggs: Under cool, running water. Pat dry immediately. Do not soak eggs.)
Some people are totally grossed out by the thought of putting poopy eggs in the fridge - or anywhere else that's near food. But in my experience, egg cartons protect any other food nearby, and the bloom protects the eggs so we don't get sick.
Now...shall we talk about why I refrigerate our eggs, even though it's not required? I think I'll leave that for another post. Until then...happy homesteading!