Eggs from your own chickens store better than store-bought eggs, because the commercial washing process removes the natural antibacterial coating from the shell. Unwashed eggs keep better than washed ones, so collect them promptly each day and use a dry abrasive sponge to clean them if necessary. Don’t store eggs that have been washed (or have imperfect shells) for longer than you have to, and use them first.
How long can you store eggs?
For best results, store eggs in egg cartons, pointed end down to protect the air sac. Stored like this, clean, dry eggs will keep for at least four weeks from the date of laying, or five weeks if you refrigerate them. Eggs from your own chickens may keep for quite a bit longer than this provided they are undamaged and have not been washed, but once you’re past the four-week mark it’s a good idea to check if they have gone off before using them. To keep track of how old an egg is, use a date stamp or a soft pencil to gently note the date on the egg or the carton.
Should eggs be washed before storing?
Never wash eggs if you can avoid it. This is because washing removes the ‘bloom’ – a natural coating which seals the pores in the shell against bacteria and reduces the evaporation of water. If you wash off the bloom the egg will look dull, and will not keep so well. Store-bought eggs are routinely washed and treated with mineral oil to substitute for the bloom, which is why they sometimes look shiny, but it’s also why they don’t keep so well as unwashed eggs. Some farm shop eggs have been washed too: always ask, and if in doubt assume they have been washed.
To store eggs really well, make sure they’re clean to start with. Ensure that the nest boxes in your chicken house always have clean, dry bedding and encourage the birds to use them. If they insist on sleeping in the nest boxes you may need to move them onto the perches every night for a couple of weeks. That should do the trick: if not, you may have a problem with your housing design.
Collect the eggs promptly, before the birds kick them around. If you do have to clean the eggs, dry-clean them using an abrasive sponge and wipe any residue off with a dry cloth. Keep the sponge and cloth for cleaning eggs only, and bleach or boil them occasionally.
If the egg is beyond dry cleaning, then you will have to use water. Because of the way that the pores in eggshell work, the water should be warm (not hot: just warmer than the egg). Don’t immerse them in water: spray them or run them briefly under the tap, let them sit for a moment to soften the dirt, and then wipe them one at a time with a clean, dry cloth or kitchen paper before putting them into storage cartons. Washed eggs are not suitable for long-term storage (next Sunday’s article will tell you how to store eggs for months), so mark them to be used promptly.
Checking if a fresh egg has gone off
If you’ve stored an egg for longer than four weeks, or if there’s anything else about it that makes you think it might be dodgy, break it into a cup or bowl – on its own. Your nose will tell you if it has gone off as soon as you break it. Alternatively, you can check unbroken eggs by seeing if they will float in water. An egg that floats has too much air in it, and is likely to have gone off: compost it in the middle of a hot heap. An egg that balances on its pointed end but doesn’t float is past its best, but still suitable for baking or hard boiling: use it as soon as you can.