It’s finally happened. Your egg laying hens have matured from tiny, fuzzy chicks to mature adults and you are finding fresh eggs in their nesting boxes. Now you and your household can enjoy fresh eggs on a daily basis. But depending on how many hens you have, the situation can become overwhelming if the number of eggs outpaces your needs. If that happens, you need to figure out a way to store or use up the extras.
As with any perishable food item, there are recommended safe ways to store eggs. Storing them properly ensures you get the maximum benefits of a fresh product and keeps you safe from any food borne illnesses.
To wash or not to wash
Once laid, eggs have a natural coating that creates a barrier preventing any air exchange between the outside environment and the interior of the egg. Any air exchange will slowly erode the quality of the egg. So you don’t want to wash that coating away.
When you think about washing and storing your fresh eggs, your first thought should be your chickens’ living conditions, according to Kathy Savoie, professor and food safety educator with University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
“Everything really starts with keeping their nesting boxes clean,” Savoie, who has her own backyard flock of hens, said. “A well managed nesting box with fresh bedding or shavings means you will have fresh eggs that are cleaner.”
By checking for new eggs at least once or even twice a day and scooping out any manure in the nesting boxes when you do, you increase the odds for clean eggs. It’s also a good idea to add fresh bedding to the boxes every day or so.
If you end up collecting eggs that do have dirt or chicken fecal matter on the shells, simply brush off any matter clinging to the shell. If whatever is stuck to the egg does not come off, try gently scrubbing it with a small piece of fine grit sandpaper.
If it’s a particularly stubborn glob on the egg, Savoie said you can gently wipe it off using water that is 10- to 20-degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the egg. Anything warmer destroys the protein of the egg itself. It is also important to dry the egg after washing it in any water as the shell is porous and water can seep through the shell and damage the egg.
The time to wash the egg is right before you use it because the shell could still harbor bacteria like salmonella.
Storing your eggs
Properly stored, fresh eggs have a fairly long and safe shelf life, according to Julie Berry, acting food inspection supervisor with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
“Eggs are to be cleaned of any visible dirt or fecal matter and stored at or below 45 [degrees Fahrenheit],” according to Berry. “As for the ‘shelf life,’ that is up to the individual [but] most go between 45 and 60 days including the day of lay.”
Food safety experts agree eggs should never be stored outside of a refrigerator.
“We do not recommend storing your eggs at room temperature,” Savoie said. “They are perishable and need to be stored in the main part of your refrigerator which will allow them to retain a robust shelf life.”
Storing eggs in the door of your refrigerator exposes them to too many temperature fluctuations as the door is opened and closed.
“It is important to keep yourself organized as far as rotating the eggs in your refrigerator,” Savoie said. “You want to know you are using first eggs in, first eggs out so get yourself a sharpie and mark dates on your egg cartons.”
Extending the shelf life of eggs
If your eggs are starting to pile up faster than you can eat them. Savoie said an alternative is freezing them.
Never freeze an egg in the shell, she said. Instead, crack them into a dish and scramble them up before freezing them in portion sizes you will use. An average sized egg is around a quarter cup of liquid, Savoie said, which is important to know when you pull your frozen eggs out to use in baking. She added that ice cube trays are excellent containers to freeze eggs. After they are frozen you can pop them out and put the individual frozen cubes into another container. They will last up to a year in your freezer.
Picking eggs is another way to preserve fresh eggs. There are many different recipes for pickled eggs available online. Properly pickled and stored in a refrigerator, a pickled egg will last three to four months.
Savoie said she has seen an increased interest in the process known as “liming eggs” in which eggs still in the shells are placed in a glass jar. Then a mixture of water and lime powder are poured over them, the jar tightly sealed and placed in a dark pantry or closet. She does not recommend this process for storing eggs.
“Again, you have a highly perishable food product with eggs,” Savoie said. “The liming process calls for storing them at room temperature and that risks food borne illnesses.”
Safety issues aside, liming also adversely impacts the quality of the eggs.
“It’s not a good idea,” Berry said. “Eggs are porous, so depending on environmental situations they will suck in whatever is on or around the eggs including smells.”
Other ways to use the eggs
At some point you have fried, scrambled and poached eggs so many times you want to do something different with them. The easiest thing to do is hard boil your eggs which can then be eaten as a high protein snack or used to make egg salad or deviled eggs.
“If you have ever tried to peel a hard boiled fresh egg, you know how hard that can be,” Savoie said. “You want to use eggs that are at least two weeks old.”
It’s also possible to use up extra eggs in recipes that call for a lot of them like a quiche or frittata.
“When I have a ton of eggs, my first thing is to get them out to friends and family,” Savoie said. “Then I resort to recipes that use a significant number of eggs.”
Sharing the bounty
Savoie joked that at some point, if your chickens really kick into high gear with egg production, fresh eggs are like garden zucchini at the height of season with more than you need or perhaps even want.
“Just like zucchini, if you have too many eggs for your use give them to friends and family,” Savoie said. “And be sure you are respecting social distancing when you do.”
And like zucchini, eggs are best enjoyed at their freshest, Savoie said.
“You really want to eat them at their peak of quality,” she said.