Amidst the nationwide egg “crisis,” I’ve begun to notice two distinct trends among folks. The first, and the more heartening, are those who are (albeit belatedly) using the situation as an excuse to jump into poultry ownership, so they are better prepared for whatever comes next. The other, more worryingly, are those who seem to wish to do so, but who are resisting the jump out of fears surrounding the safety of such uninspected, non-FDA approved eggs. Read on, for a little on the safety of homegrown eggs.
One of the first things to know about an egg, is that despite its hard shell, eggs are actually quite porous. This means bacteria can move in and out with ease. A lot of folks’ fears start right hear, as this seems to suggest eggs could be very susceptible to contaminants, and if you’ve ever seen inside a chicken coop, you’ll know its fully of them. Even a regularly cleaned coop will end up with dirt and fecal matter in it between cleanings. Luckily, however, hens came up with a solution for this problem a while back.
Before laying, the hen will encase her egg in something called a “bloom.” This substance seals all the pores of the egg from contaminants, making them impervious to such dirty substances as those mentioned above. As long as that bloom is intact, your egg is (at least externally) safe as can be.
If you’ve ever bought eggs straight off a farm, and seen some bedding stuck to the shell, this is the reason. Brushing the eggs off is one thing, but full-on washing the egg actually makes it more susceptible to contamination while it sits on the shelf. That is why, despite their off-putting appearance, many small farms choose to sell them just that way. Of course, this makes it imperative that you, as the consumer, wash them before using them, as there’s nothing worse than a gross chunk of shell splashing into your omelet.
You’ll note I said above that the egg’s bloom keeps the egg safe from external threats. So what about internal? This is where hen health comes into play.
Speaking bluntly, it’s pretty damn hard to under-care for chickens. Short of running out of feed, and not providing shelter, there’s not much you can do that will be really disastrous if you live in a moderate climate. That said, you want the best possible chance your eggs are healthy, so here are a few tips to keeping your flock in full feather.
Dry is good. The wetter and damper the conditions, the more you’ll want to change out your bedding material. The coop should also be free of drafts, particularly in colder areas, as you’ll want the warmest possible environment for your chickens to huddle in. Make sure you have enough nesting boxes as well, no less than one for every four chickens, as a general rule of thumb. Change your water often, as chickens are indiscriminate about their choice of bathroom. Finally, when a chicken does get sick, make sure you have a spot to quarantine it away from the others. The last thing you need is a potentially fatal illness burning through your entire coop. Keeping your chickens healthy, will ensure your eggs are healthy as well.
While the above are the most important factors to consider for egg health, Ill leave you with a few final checks to asses the health of your eggs just before you eat them.
- Shining a light through them can show you that the egg has not begun developing into a chicken, if the egg has been sitting for a while. This is particularly important in coops with roosters.
- Shake the egg next to your ear. Any sloshing can indicate that a large air pocket has developed, meaning the contents has gone bad. This can be useful for any eggs you find in unusual places, and are unsure of the age of.
- Working off the same principle, put an egg in a glass of water. If it floats, its bad as the air pocket has grown large. If it sinks, its good.
Egg storage times
- Washed and refrigerated: Up to 8 weeks.
- Unwashed and refrigerated: Up to 6 months.
- Unwashed at room temperature: Up to 3 weeks.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”