Don’t let eggs, cooked or uncooked, sit out for longer than a couple of hours. In this week’s food storage post, we explain why.
Eggs are a versatile ingredient that doesn’t take much to turn into a delicious and nutritious meal in any season of the year and at any time of day.
Every family has a favorite way to eat eggs, and every home cook should have at least a few recipes, some on the stove, and others in the oven, in their cookbook.
When it comes to the safety of the eggs you eat, though, there’s one thing you should know. And, for one reason or another, cookbook authors and YouTube chefs don’t talk at all about it.
Contrary to what most of us think, eggs don’t have that long of a shelf life. Especially when they’ve been left out to sit for longer during heatwaves, which unfortunately seem to have become the new norm for the summer in recent summers.
To be precise, the rule of thumb is as follows:
Whether uncooked or cooked, eggs shouldn’t be left to sit out for longer than 2 hours (or 1 hour when the temperature outside is 90°F and above). Otherwise, bacteria may grow to dangerous levels inside them, making them unsafe to eat.
That’s because, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bacteria not only survive but actually thrive at the temperature range from 40°F to 140°F.
So much so that the federal department calls this temperature range “the danger zone.” Left for too long in it, your food will spoil, and the risk of it giving you food poisoning rises significantly.
Essentially, this tells you three things:
Keep uncooked eggs in the fridge. Refrigerate eggs shortly after unpacking your grocery bags, particularly when it’s hot outside, and you haven’t cooled your kitchen.
Refrigerate leftover eggs shortly after you’re done cooking or eating. Second, if you cooked more eggs than you and the diners at your table can eat, allow them to cool down to room temperature for 5-10 minutes after taking them off the heat, then seal them in a ziplock bag or food storage container, then put them in your fridge.
(You could wrap the cooked eggs in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, of course. But that way, they wouldn’t be airtight, which means they’ll last for less by drying out faster.)
When in doubt about the safety of an egg, do the right thing and don’t try to be a hero. Third, if you left eggs to sit out for longer—or, worse, forgot them on your countertop overnight—the right thing to do is to throw them away instead of taking your chances.
Otherwise, you risk becoming one of the 48 million Americans who get food-borne illness every day or, in more extreme cases of food poisoning, one of the 128,000 who get hospitalized because they ate bad food (based on CDC data).
How Long Are Refrigerated Eggs Good For?
“How long do refrigerated eggs stay good for,” some of you are probably asking as you’re reading through this?
Refrigerated, uncooked eggs will stay good for 4-5 weeks from laying. Cooked eggs should also be stored in your fridge, in a ziplock bag or food storage container promptly after coming off the heat, where they will typically last for 3-4 days.
Keep the eggs in the designated tray on the door of your fridge. In case you don’t have one, an even better place to keep the eggs, according to an article on the topic at Allrecipes, is on a middle shelf, towards the back of the appliance, where it’s cool but not the coldest.
This ground rule applies to every single recipe for cooked eggs you could possibly think of, whether that’s pan-fried eggs sunny side up, eggs whipped into an omelet, or a hearty breakfast frittata.
Why Eggs Must Be Refrigerated in the States
To a large extent, the “correct” way to store uncooked eggs depends on the country you live in.
Stateside, we wash our eggs, whereas the rest of the world vaccinates their hens against salmonella and keeps the eggs dirty.
This, in case you’ve ever wondered, is the reason why eggs must always be refrigerated in the United States and Canada, whereas they’re sold and stored at room temperature in Europe and the rest of the world.
U.S. and Canadian food safety regulations require eggs to be washed in chlorinated water with a food-grade detergent to clean the shell, remove any dirt, and eliminate pathogenic bacteria (via Business Insider and Get Cracking).
However, that wash also strips away the egg’s natural barrier against bacteria, consisting of hardened proteins and called the “cuticle,” which makes it vulnerable to bacterial infection when left out.
Because of that, eggs sold in the U.S. and Canada should never sit out for longer than 2 hours and must be continuously refrigerated for storage of up to 4-5 weeks.
In 2010, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s stance on the topic was that “there was not enough evidence to conclude that vaccinating hens against salmonella would prevent people from getting sick,” as reported by The New York Times.
You will be surprised to learn that Europeans often store egg cartons in their pantry, and not their fridge.
Regulators in the European Union, on the other hand, mandate egg producers to vaccinate their hens against salmonella (instead of washing the eggs themselves) and instruct consumers to wash their hands with soapy water after touching eggshells.
Since the eggs sold in most European countries haven’t been washed, they have a natural protective barrier that shields them from pathogenic bacteria with or without refrigeration. Still, food experts agree that storing unwashed eggs above 65°F isn’t recommended.
Can Eggs Be Frozen?
So you took a trip to the grocery store, saw eggs at a bargain you just couldn’t miss out on, and bought waaay more than you could eat? Been there, done that.
Freeze eggs by cracking them out of their shells and pouring them into a muffin pan, one egg per muffin hole. Wrapping the pan tightly in plastic wrap or freezer paper, then put it in the fridge. Storing them in their shells isn’t recommended, as they can crack from the cold and make a mess.
Though frozen food stays safe to eat indefinitely, frozen eggs will keep their best qualities for 3-4 months. After that time, they will start to dry out, and they’ll taste increasingly less appetizing when cooked.
The safest way to thaw frozen eggs is to transfer them from your freezer to your fridge, leaving them to defrost overnight.