As a new chicken owner, one of the most exciting moments is when you find the very first farm-fresh eggs in your backyard chicken coop! If you live in the United States, instinctually you will likely want to wash the eggs and put them in the refrigerator. In the US, we typically encounter washed, store-bought eggs in the refrigerator section. Your freshly laid egg may surprise you by being dirty, or worse yet, covered in manure! As egg production increases, you may find yourself drowning in fresh chicken eggs. The egg storage in the refrigerator may be utilizing more space than you would like to dedicate to eggs. What are the best options of how to store fresh eggs from chickens?
Is Refrigeration Required?
If you are from the United States and Canada likely you expect that eggs require refrigeration. However, only a handful of countries require that commercial eggs be refrigerated due to federal regulation. In European and Asian countries, eggs are not refrigerated. What makes this possible?
The Bloom: Nature’s Preservation Method
Freshly-laid eggs have a natural coating called the bloom that protects the eggs. Scientifically the protective bloom is called the cuticle. The cuticle is a protein layer that creates a natural protective layer that seals the pores of the eggshell and prevents harmful bacteria from passing through the shell. This natural bloom allows unwashed fresh eggs to remain shelf-stable at room temperature. The shelf life of unwashed, unrefrigerated eggs is about 2 weeks. While fresh eggs won’t go bad after 2 weeks on the counter, the quality of eggs will begin to deteriorate and dry out. The yolks become more fragile and the egg white more runny. Refrigeration will allow you to keep the eggs for several months if you are unable to use them in a couple of weeks.
It’s best practice to use your oldest eggs first. Come up with an effective egg rotation system that works for you. If you question if your eggs are fresh, refer to the float test below.
Egg Storage Tip
Eggs are best stored pointy side down! Every egg has an air sac in the larger blunt end of the egg. The air sac is formed between the inner and outer membranes of the egg. If you place the blunt end of the eggs in the bottom of the egg cartons, as the egg ages, the air sac rises towards the yolk, as it increases in size. These membranes as well as the egg white act as an interior barrier to protect the yolk from bacteria. As the air sac naturally rises to the top, the membranes can rupture contaminating the egg. By placing the egg’s pointy end down, the air sac is already at the top and is less likely to disrupt the yolk as it enlarges through the natural aging of the egg.
Clean Eggs Start in the Nesting Boxes
One of the best ways to ensure your backyard chicken eggs are clean is to provide clean nesting boxes. Many chicken keepers have problems with chickens that like to roost in or above the nesting boxes. Chickens will seek out the highest place they can to roost to protect themselves from predators. Placing your roosts above the nesting boxes will guarantee you will have problems with poopy eggs. If your nesting boxes are higher than your roosts, your chickens will prefer to roost on top of the nest boxes, ensuring very dirty nest boxes.
In our current chicken coop, we have built a small roosting box that is adjacent to the chicken coop. Currently, the egg nesting boxes are inside the roosting box. To prevent the chickens from roosting above the nest boxes, we have placed a board that prevents the chickens from roosting over the boxes. In my dream chicken coop, the egg boxes are opposite the roosting bars. They extend outside of the chicken coop, preventing the birds from roosting anywhere near the nesting boxes. Be sure to provide your chickens with clean nesting material. Clean hay, straw or pine shavings are good options.
A broody hen can also contribute to dirty nesting boxes. While some hens will leave the nest box to do their business, others won’t. The boxes can be challenging to clean as the hen’s instinct is to protect her eggs.
Despite your best efforts, you will collect dirty eggs. There are two options to clean eggs. The first option is dry cleaning. Simply use a dry cloth to wipe off any dirt on the eggs. Dry cleaning protects the natural bloom of the egg, which allows unwashed eggs to remain on the counter.
In some circumstances, your best option will be to wash eggs right away using a wet cleaning method. If you find extremely dirty eggs or manure-covered eggs, wet cleaning might be required. It’s best to use warm water to clean eggs rather than cool water. The warm water swells the egg keeping the pores closed. Despite warm water cleaning, once the eggs are washed, the bloom is no longer intact and any washed eggs should be refrigerated immediately.
Always wash fresh eggs just before use. Furthermore, I always crack fresh eggs into a separate bowl, never into what I am cooking or baking. Especially, if you get eggs from someone else, you can’t ensure their egg-handling process. Eggs not collected regularly may be contaminated. Any egg that looks questionable when cracked open is composted.
Is This Egg Fresh?
Sometimes chickens like to hide their eggs, not laying them in the nestbox and you don’t know how old they are. Even with good handling practice, perhaps you have an excess amount of eggs in your fridge and can’t use them fast enough. If you can’t determine if your eggs are fresh, try the float test.
As eggs age, the air sac in the blunt end of the egg will begin to enlarge. A fresh egg, with a normal-sized air sac, will sink to the bottom of a glass of water. If the egg submerges, not remaining at the top, but not sinking to the bottom, it is likely still fresh enough to eat, however, it’s not in its freshest state. If the egg floats at the surface of the water, the egg sac has enlarged significantly. While the only way to absolutely determine if the egg is spoiled is to crack it open and see if it smells bad, I personally don’t recommend it. A rotten egg can open with explosive force, spewing rotten egg all over you and your kitchen (ask me how I know). As a general rule, if an egg floats, I throw it out.
Broken eggs should always be considered contaminated. Sometimes a hen will step on an egg as she leaves the nest box. While it’s always best practice to discard a broken egg if I can see visually that the inner shell membrane is not compromised, I would use the egg the same day I found it. If I can’t do that (or prefer not to), you can always cook the entire egg, shell and all. Simply scramble the egg with the shell broken up in the scrambled egg and feed it back to the chickens. They will love it! However, be sure to break up the shell, it’s a great source of calcium for the chickens, however, you don’t want them to recognize the source and begin eating their eggs.
Storing Eggs Collected in Cold Winter Months
It’s my personal preference to store eggs gathered in cold temperatures in the refrigerator. Cold unwashed eggs that come to room temperature can begin to sweat. The temperature fluctuations can allow bacteria to grow. While I still don’t wash my eggs in winter, I prefer to maintain the temperature of the eggs by storing them in the refrigerator. Typically chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter months, so refrigerator storage is not as big of a concern. However, winter is a great time of year to scramble up any excess eggs, shell and all, for the chickens. The increased protein will help the chickens maintain their body condition during the cold winter months.
Long-Term Storage of Eggs
In the warm summer months, chickens tend to lay an excess amount of eggs. Especially if your love for chickens exceeds your love for eggs! Farm fresh eggs can be preserved in an airtight container at room temperature through a process using pickling lime in a water solution. Pickling lime is a food-safe product made of calcium hydroxide. It’s often referred to as water glassing eggs. However, true water glassing uses a chemical made of sodium silicate. Learn all about my preferred egg preservation method using lime water solution, recipe included!
Room Temperature Storage
If you own backyard chickens, storing farm fresh eggs on the counter is not only safe, it’s a great way to reduce the amount of space in your fridge dedicated to egg storage. If you purchase eggs from a local farmer’s market or neighbor, verify with the farmer their egg handling practices regarding washing eggs before leaving eggs at room temperature.
Find this post helpful?
Share it on Pinterest
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.