Farm-Fresh Eggs are in high demand right now with store prices skyrocketing. People are turning to their chicken-keeping neighbors for food instead of choosing the convenience of the grocery store. This is a great thing! However, many people struggle to eat fresh eggs because they have been led to believe that these eggs are not safe for consumption. So today, we will dig into the question- “Are Farm-Fresh Eggs Safe to Eat?”
Are Farm-Fresh Eggs Safe to Eat?
Short answer- yes!
Longer answer- It can depend on a few different variables that hinge on the specific chicken keeper.
Let’s talk about these variables and the differences between farm-fresh and store-bought eggs.
Farm-Fresh Eggs are Different than Store-Bought Eggs
What makes eggs straight from the farm different than the eggs that you can purchase at the grocery store?
The eggs that you find sitting in a grocery store refrigerator are between 6 weeks and 2 months old. While eggs sold by your local farmer can last that long (even longer when stored properly), he/she usually won’t sell them at that age.
2. Nutrient Content
Farm-fresh eggs have been shown to contain less cholesterol, more vitamins & nutrients, and much more Omega 3 fatty acids than typical store-bought eggs. The nutritional value of an egg is related to the diet of the bird (think solely pellet-fed vs. homemade feed vs. free-range) so this factor can vary from one farm to the next.
3. Protective Coating
Most eggs sold straight from the farm still have the bloom intact. Bloom is a protective coating that the hen covers her egg in before she lays it. Eggs sold in grocery store refrigerators have had this bloom removed so bacteria can freely enter through the pores in the shell.
Factors that Affect Egg Safety
Eggs from backyard chickens are safe to eat when the birds are healthy, the coop is clean, the eggs have an intact bloom, and they are handled properly. It is a good idea to get to know the farmer/homesteader you buy eggs from (and use good practices if you are selling eggs).
Be aware that many chicken owners do not allow on-site tours of their coops due to biosecurity issues. However, they should be willing to tell you about their practices.
Flock Living Conditions & Health
The condition of the coop, run, feed, and water are all related to egg safety. The flock should have access to:
- A dry, clean, and draft-free coop
- Clean nest boxes-1 box per 4 chickens is recommended
- Fresh and clean water (The water may get dirty throughout the day, but should be changed as needed.)
Flock health is very important as well because a sick flock could equal sick (or lower quality) eggs. Sick birds should be quarantined and treated separately from healthy chickens.
Egg Handling Practices
- Eggs should be collected daily and multiple times per day during extreme heat and cold.
- Farm-fresh eggs can be left unwashed and out on the counter at room temperature OR they can be washed and placed in the refrigerator. Unwashed eggs are usually the better option (we will talk about why in a minute).
- The oldest eggs should be used/sold first. Using an egg organizer like an egg skelter is a good way to keep the oldest eggs moving out first.
- Egg cartons CAN safely be reused
- Broken and cracked eggs should be discarded.
An egg is laid with a porous shell. This means that bacteria and other small particles can move in and out of the shell. To protect the egg’s contents, the hen produces a protective layer called bloom.
The bloom is a protective coating that a hen places on her eggs before she lays them. This coating protects the egg by sealing the eggshell pores, preventing bacteria from permeating the shell. This is why most backyard chicken keepers advocate for selling unwashed eggs.
With the protective bloom intact, eggs can be stored at room temperature for 2 weeks (sometimes up to a month). Once the egg is washed, however, the bloom is removed and the egg can no longer be safely stored at room temp. Washed eggs must be refrigerated to keep bacteria from growing in and on them.
When Should Eggs Be Washed?
If you have a clean coop with clean nesting boxes, then typically your eggs will be clean. However, that is not always the case. When it is rainy outside, the birds can bring mud in on their feet & bottoms which transfers to the egg shells.
This isn’t an issue since the bloom is still intact, but if you are selling eggs, your customers may prefer dirty eggs to be washed. Otherwise, there is no need to wash farm-fresh eggs until just before you plan to eat them.
Eggs should be washed in warm water, slightly warmer (by about 20 degrees F) than the shell. This helps to keep bacteria from moving back into the egg through the shell. Using cold water can create a vacuum that pulls bacteria into the egg.
How to Store Fresh Eggs Safely
Storing fresh eggs is just a bit different than storing eggs from the grocery store. This is because of the difference in egg age and the presence of the bloom. There are several ways to preserve and extend the shelf life of eggs such as by freezing, dehydrating, water glassing, and freeze-drying.
Shelf Life of Fresh Eggs
- Washed fresh eggs in the refrigerator: 6-8 weeks
- Unwashed fresh eggs in the refrigerator: 3-6 months
- Unwashed fresh eggs at room temperature: 2-3 weeks.
Shelf Life of Store-Bought Eggs
Store-bought eggs are washed and must be stored in the refrigerator (this is at least true in the United States). They are usually good for 3-4 weeks after the packing date. The packing date is listed as a Julian date on each egg carton. Do not confuse this with the “best by” date.
How to Recognize Bad Eggs
If you want to test your eggs before cracking them, you can use a few different methods:
- Egg Float Test
The float test is a little bit controversial. Some people swear by it and some say that it is unreliable. Place an egg in a bowl of water. If the egg floats it is bad, if it sinks it is good. The idea is that a bad egg will float because the air cell inside has grown large enough to make it buoyant.
Candling is the process of shining a light through the egg to view the contents- almost like an x-ray. You can use this method to see if a chick has begun to develop (if it has been with the hens for several days) or to see if there are dark spots that may indicate a rotten egg.
- Shake Test
You can shake an egg close to your ear to listen for a sloshing sound. The idea with this test is that as the egg ages, the air pocket grows and the contents shrink so there is more room for the yolk and white to slosh around.
- Crack into another bowl
You can also simply crack your eggs one at a time in a separate bowl. This keeps one bad egg from ruining the entire batch that you are cooking with. Just note that if you do crack a bad egg, you may smell it for a while.
With proper flock management and egg handling, you can lay the question, “Are farm-fresh eggs safe?” to rest!
Raising Backyard Chickens
Keep reading to learn even more about the joys of raising backyard chickens on the homestead!