Friday, June 20, 2008

how to clean urban chicken eggs

Thanks to my sharing the instructions for our chicken sitter before I left town on vacation, I got some great feedback on my chicken-raising technique.

Most specifically, Granny Annie commented on my egg-cleaning technique, gently tsking me for washing the poop off our eggs instead of simply taking a damp paper towel to them.

Sure enough, Granny Annie's right about not washing the eggs with water (not that I doubted her). Doing a little digging, here's what I found out about so-called "wet cleaning:"
The basic issue is that dirty eggs are covered with bacteria, which have trouble getting through the shell so long as it's dry. As soon as the shell is wet, they pass through the shell more easily. Also, if you cool the egg, the contents shrink a little, causing a partial vacuum inside that tends to suck foreign matter into the egg.

The upshot is that you should always wash eggs in water that's warmer than the egg is, and you should sanitize the eggshells to kill any bacteria on the shell.

So, it seems my prior technique of washing the eggs in tepid water and then popping them into the fridge was likely the worst thing I could have been doing! I'm so very glad I decided to be open about how I do things to invite people smarter than I to correct me openly.

What's the best way to clean eggs? From the same source:
You can clean up lightly soiled eggs with various abrasives. Sanding sponges from 3M and others are good, and can be found in any hardware store. Loofas are also good. Some people use sandpaper or steel wool, but these aren't as good as the first two.

Basically, you rub the egg until it's clean, or you give up, or it breaks in your hand. This happens more often than you'd think, because dirty eggs are often cracked as well.

Dry cleaning doesn't work very well to clean up eggs that have been smeared with the white or yolk of broken eggs in the nest.

Whatever you use to clean the eggs, it's best to wash and sanitize it from time to time. Clean loofas or sanding sponges in soap and water, sanitize them in water with a little bit of bleach, then allow to dry.

Thanks, Granny Annie for the tip on how to clean my eggs!

Oh, and Steven, I'll be getting to your question about "why crumbles?" in another post. I think I'm about to change another habit...


Granny Annie said...

Turn about is fair play. I loved that link to the article on washing eggs. What would we do if we didn't help each other?

Most of our eggs are pretty clean in the nest and I always try to keep fresh straw in the hen's boxes. If I can get the eggs before the roosters and the other hens start tromping around on them I have better results.

Linda said...

Hmmmm...I don't wash the eggs I collect from my hens, but I do put them in the refrigerator. So, I'm trying to figure out if this is a practice that I should change. Typically, I give them a quick rinse under the tap before I crack them open, and I always tell the people I give eggs to that they are NOT washed. Of course, I've never gotten ill from eating eggs from my hens, even when they aren't thoroughly cooked or are raw, and neither has anyone else. So, then I guess I'm OK?

Bad Wolf said...

You probably already know this but eggs have a natural coating called "bloom" which basically seals them, keeps the various bacteria out and keeps them fresh. That's why people will see eggs sitting out at a market in Mexico (something that bothers the gringos). It's also the reason a hen can lay a clutch of a dozen or so yet have them all hatch about the same time. Until she starts sitting on them, keeping them at a constant temperature, they are in a stasis.

Once washed, the coating is gone and the eggs can't be left out as the shell is porous. Eggs bought in the store have to be washed (and are usually in a corn based detergent, then covered in a corn based coating) according to the rules so would go bad quickly if left out. They also turn quicker in the fridge than unwashed.

Here's a great article Mother Earth News did on various techniques of storing eggs and the results over a year.

We use a fingernail brush like deal to clean off dirty eggs before storing. The eggs I used to buy at the farmers market would often have a little dirt and even a downy feather or two attached but I loved that as it showed the origins. We are so freaked about sanitation in North America often causing more problems with our obsessions.

For instance, just as the cold water draws in the germs to the eggs, that's what is currently believed to be the issue with the tomatoes. Warm toms from the fields are being dunked in ice water to firm them up so they'll be tougher for the rest of the processing before hitting store or restaurant. That temperature shock is sucking the germs in through the stem end which has been compromised in the picking.

hernan43 said...

One way I've heard to sanitize things like sponges is to get them wet and then microwave them.

I've done it in the past with sponges and the like. Not sure how it would work on a loofa or a brush, but as long as they don't have any metal it probably can't hurt. Maybe. :-)

Brenda Snyder said...

We get a lot of eggs daily and they need to be washed. We used to wash them in cool water but after research found out that warm is better. I fill a large bowl or bucket in the sink with warm water and eggs and we scrub them with a scrubby sponge. Let them dry on the counter on a towel then they go in the fridge or cooler.

Kettenton said...

I'm a little late to this discussion, but I just found this through Pinterest. If I buy eggs that are out on the shelves in the market, do I need to was them? (They are not refrigerated).


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