Forgot a carton of eggs in the trunk, did you now? No need to scramble! Here’s everything you need to know to decide what to do with them.
The title says it all. You left a carton of eggs overnight in the trunk of your car, or maybe on the back seat.
You discovered them the following day. They are intact, but you’re at a crossroads: You don’t want a perfectly good carton of eggs to go to waste. But you don’t want to get food poisoning either.
Are the eggs still safe to eat? It would have been so easy to give you a clear-cut “yes” or “no” and move on. But when it comes to food safety, you and I both know the answer is never that simple.
Where Do You Live?
First of all, the answer depends on where you live.
If you are in the United States, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, or Japan, you should probably throw the eggs away if you left them in the car overnight.
If you live elsewhere in the world, you have some leeway in deciding what to do with the eggs, depending on how hot it was (we’ll get to that in a minute) and how risk-averse you are about food poisoning (and then we’ll get to that after).
There’s a reason why the Americans, Australians, Danes, Swedes, and Japanese keep their eggs in the fridge while the rest of the world doesn’t.
In these countries, egg producers are required to wash their eggs with warm water and a detergent to kill off Salmonella bacteria on the shells. Washing makes the eggs look sparkling clean and gives them a glowing sheen, but it also removes their natural protective layer against the elements—the cuticle.
Stripped from the cuticle, the eggs are prone to spoiling and vulnerable to bacterial growth. So they must be refrigerated at all times and cannot be left out at room temperature for more than an hour or two (the warmer it is outside, the shorter the shelf life of the eggs).
In an article on this topic on its website, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service leaves little room for interpretation of its guidance: “Don’t keep eggs out of the refrigerator more than 2 hours.”
How Hot Was It Outside?
To help you decide what to do with the eggs, here’s a crash course on food safety:
Bacteria start to die in the heat of cooking (above 140°F/60°C), replicate the fastest at room temperature, continue to replicate, if slowly, in the fridge (at 40°F/4.4°C and below), and enter a state of hibernation in the freezer (at 0°F/-18°C) until thawed.
To hinder bacterial growth on your food and minimize the risk of poisoning, keep hot food hot and cold food cold, and avoid keeping perishable food items—raw or cooked—in the temperature range between 40°F (4.4°C) and 140°F (60°C) for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature outside is 90°F/32°C and hotter).
Armed with this knowledge, you can draw a conclusion or two about the eggs:
- If you live in a country where eggs are washed, and you left them out for more than 1-2 hours, discard them.
- If you live in a country where eggs are not washed, you may consider keeping them.
How Risk Averse Are You About Food Poisoning?
Ultimately, your decision on what to do with the eggs should boil down to this: do you belong to a group at risk of food poisoning, or are you cooking for somebody in that group? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” it is best to discard the eggs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the groups of people with the highest risk of food poisoning are adults aged 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years, those with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.
If your body or another person’s body is unable to fight bacterial infections, the last thing you want to do is cause one with tonight’s dinner.
The Bottom Line
If you end up deciding to eat the eggs, be sure to cook them thoroughly. Hard boiling or frying them over high heat in a pan until they turn golden brown are the two best methods to kill as many bacteria as possible.
Personally, I wouldn’t risk it. I don’t think a few dollars is worth the risk of food poisoning. If I found myself in such a situation, I’d look for an environmentally friendly way to dispose of the eggs and not cook or eat them in the first place.