Easter Egg Safety

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How long can hard-boiled eggs stay out at room temperature? The Easter basket looks empty without them.

Your friendly U.S. Department of Agriculture says you can keep those colorful eggs in the Easter basket or out for an Easter egg hunt for absolutely as long as you like — as long as it's not more than two hours.

Otherwise, it says, they should be kept in the refrigerator. If they're out for longer than two hours, you should not eat them. The USDA says, "Some people make two sets of eggs — one for decorating and hiding, another for eating." We actually know no one who makes two sets of eggs, but perhaps the government knows people we don't.

The USDA is concerned about the possible multiplication of harmful bacteria in the eggs, and that multiplication occurs at a much faster rate when the food is between the temperatures of 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C). The agency promotes a one-size-fits-all rule for all foods that are perishable: they should be unrefrigerated for no longer than two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90°F (32°C).

From time to time, we take issue with that rule. The multiplication of bacteria obviously occurs more rapidly when the temperature is higher, so if your Easter egg hunt is taking place outside and the weather is in the low 60s, say, rather than in the high 80s, you might be able to stretch the non-refrigerated egg time to, say, two hours and five minutes, or even longer. Similarly, different foods put up more of a fight against bacteria than others (ketchup vs. mayonnaise, for instance), and will be safer for a longer period of time. But we understand theoretically that, governments being what they are, one rule for all perishable foods is unlikely to be misunderstood and is likely to offer the broadest food-safety protection to the most people.

The USDA makes other Easter egg suggestions that we are not currently muttering about:

  • Only use food-grade dyes to color eggs.
  • Don't hide an egg that has a cracked shell. It is too susceptible to picking up bacteria.
  • Don't hide eggs in areas that are dirty or where they are likely to come in contact with animals or other prolific sources of bacteria.
  • Eggs that are not found until three days after the end of the hunt should be thrown out, no questions asked!

Related Articles:
Making Hard-Boiled (Hard-Cooked) Eggs
The Shelf-Life of Hard-Boiled Eggs