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Must Eggs Be Refrigerated?

 I bought eggs home from the store and set the bag on the table. Five hours later, I remembered them (the temperature of our home was 70°F [21°C]). I threw them out but am wondering, how long they would have been good?

  One Ochef staff member lived in Vienna several years ago, and one of his vivid memories is of stacks of egg cartons at the end of an aisle in the supermarket — nowhere near a refrigerator. Indeed, in the enormous and very elegant food store of the Galeries Lafayette in the center of Paris at this very moment, the eggs are not refrigerated. In many parts of the world, eggs are still not refrigerated. They probably are not kept out on the counter for weeks at a time, but they are cooked or used in cooking, eaten, and, so far as we know, the eaters live to cook eggs another day.

The United States Department of Agriculture wants you to "take eggs straight home and store them immediately in the refrigerator set at 40°F [4.5°C] or slightly below." The agency's concern is that you may have an egg contaminated with bacteria that can cause illness. Storing eggs below that temperature will inhibit the growth of the bacteria, and subsequently cooking the eggs to a temperature of 160°F (71°C) or higher (at which point the bacteria are killed) will make it safe to eat even problem eggs. It is estimated that one in 20,000 eggs may be contaminated with salmonella enteritidis. So, on the off chance that you had a contaminated egg, refrigeration and thorough cooking would have helped keep you safe.

According to the American Egg Board, an egg will "age" more in one day at room temperature than it will in a week in the refrigerator. Clearly, the egg board wants you all your eggs to be fresh and tasty so that you eat the eggs you have on hand and remember to buy more on your next trip to the store. But it is equally clear that you could have kept and used your room-temperature eggs with very little risk.

For what it's worth, we keep our eggs in the refrigerator at — no matter what they do in Paris.


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