The discussion among backyard poultry owners about whether or not to wash the eggs you get from your hens can be a close second to politics or religion when it comes to conversations that don’t end well… Seriously, for some reason this is just one of those topics people get really adamant about.
So Should I Wash My Eggs?
Big picture, no matter what people say online, don’t wash or dunk your backyard eggs. The reason is that eggs are porous. In fact, an average egg has between 6,000 and 10,000 pores that form an imperfect outer layer that bacteria can easily navigate their way into the egg…Because water can move through these pores, bacteria can “hitch” a ride into the contents of the egg. Commercial egg washing systems account for this plus in the U.S. IF you sell eggs you have to wash them (it’s the law).
As an FYI, the physiological reason that all eggs have pores is for gas exchange (oxygen in and carbon dioxide out) when an embryo is developing. This is great when it comes to helping an embryo develop but not so good when someone is dunking an egg with fecal coliforms (yucky bacteria) on the surface of the shell. Because an un-washed clean looking egg can contain up to 1 million bacteria on the shell, if you wash the eggs incorrectly by dunking them, the bacteria on the surface of the egg including common bacteria like Pseudomonas, E. coli, Streptococcus and Salmonella can work their way inside. While most of these bacteria will not cause illness, some of them can indeed get you sick.
Won’t I Get Salmonella?
While Salmonella that cause human illness in eggs are relatively rare (in commercial table eggs sold in the U.S. only 1 out of every 10,000 to -30,000 eggs sold have Salmonella Enteritidis in them), Salmonella food poisoning should still be considered a legitimate concern, especially in eggs that are not properly cooked. As runny eggs become more and more popular, the potential for the “perfect storm” (i.e. Salmonella contaminated eggs that are improperly cooked) is an issue to be concerned about.
What about the cuticle/bloom?
Eggs have a thin outer protective layer that has some anti-bacterial properties. That being said the cuticle only lasts a few days and isn’t perfect as far as its ability to prevent bacteria from growing.
Keeping Your Eggs Safe to Eat Without Washing
A few of pieces of advice when it comes to backyard eggs and protecting you and your family from getting sick:
- Make sure your coop has nest boxes (at least 1 box per 5 birds) as “floor” eggs are more likely to have poop on them.
- IF you have eggs that have poop on them, our recommendation is to throw them out. However, IF you insist on eating them either use sandpaper or a wet towel to wipe off the poop. While this will also wipe off the cuticle, the cuticle is not going to work against the gazillions of bacteria on that fleck of poop…
- Collect eggs at least 1x a day and place them in the fridge (bacteria grow much slower at refrigerator temperatures).
Most importantly use common sense and your eyes. Be observant to how your flock’s overall health is. While healthy looking birds can be carriers of bacteria that makes us sick like Salmonella, it is always good practice to pay attention to the overall health of your flock!
This article was written by Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension.