This morning, when I decided to make crêpes, I pulled out the eggs from the refrigerator. I looked at them and thought how only a few years ago we didn’t have eggs like this very often and that now they are the norm. We are trying to eat in a more healthy manner and are thus making sure that our eggs are from chickens that are hopefully eating better feed and able to run around more like normal animals. In looking at the brown eggs, I thought of the Europeans and how their eggs are always brown, as opposed to the funny white of American eggs that we have become accustomed to.
In thinking of that brown, I also thought of the different way that we store eggs, Europeans store theirs on the counter, and we are forced to put ours in the refrigerator. I did a little research on the Internet to confirm what I thought were the reasons for our practice of refrigeration.
The reason for the problem with eggs is quite simply stated in one word: salmonella. In the 1970s, Americans perfected the ‘shampoo’ technique of washing the eggs. After the chickens lay the eggs, they are taken straight to a machine where they are ‘shampooed’ with soap and hot water. The possible salmonella is washed away, but the downside is that the eggs are stripped of a thin coating of protection called the cuticle. When that protection is taken away, the eggs are no longer able to keep the water and oxygen in and bacteria out; we have to store them in the refrigerator to ward off possible infection.
The Europeans, on the other hand, leave the cuticle intact (because it offers protection) and, in fact, discourage refrigeration because it is a possible cause of mildew and bacterial contamination. They also vaccinate chickens against salmonella.
When you refrigerate eggs, they have a longer shelf life but the downside is that the eggs can absorb flavors and odors present in the refrigerator, although the storage cartons offer some protection from that.
It is an interesting question as to which method is better. In my estimate, I would personally prefer what the Europeans do, but I seriously wonder if that works with the American situation whereby we tend to shop less frequently for food and store things a bit differently from our European counterparts.