This Is the Reason Why Americans Refrigerate Eggs and Europeans Don’t

The most important part is keeping harmful bacteria at bay. But does that mean you have to refrigerate? Not according to Europeans.

In the good ole U.S. of A., practically everything goes into the fridge. But not only do Europeans keep their eggs on the counter, but they also strongly recommend against refrigerating eggs. What gives? Well, there are two different philosophies about preventing the same nasty bug.

An egg on the counter in front of a window.Yev Haidamaka / Rd.com

At the root of the issue is Salmonella, one of the most common causes of bacterial food poisoning. It can run rampant through chicken farms, turning up on the outside of eggs thanks to contamination from dirt and feces; more insidious is when it’s inside the shell, thanks to the bacteria infecting a hen’s ovaries.

How Europe and the U.S. protect against Salmonella

To combat the problem, back in the 1970s, the U.S. perfected egg washing: After laying, the eggs go straight to a machine where they’re shampooed with soap and hot water. This steamy shower washes away any potential Salmonella, but it also strips the eggs of a thin coating called a cuticle. Without this protective layer, the eggs can’t keep water and oxygen in, or harmful bacteria out. So the eggs are refrigerated to combat infection. (Steer clear of these 10 foods that might give you food poisoning.)

European food safety experts took a different tack: They left the cuticle intact, made it illegal for egg producers to wash eggs, discouraged refrigeration (which can cause mildew growth and bacterial contamination should the eggs sweat as they come back to room temps), and started a program of vaccinating chickens against salmonella. The approach appears to be effective: In 2000, the U.K. had more than 14,000 egg-related cases of food poisoning; in more recent years, after their egg safety measures had been widely adopted, the number had reportedly dropped to 8,000. The U.S. has about 79,000 cases, but with a much larger population, of course.

There are objective and subjective pros and cons to room-temp eggs versus refrigerated ones. Refrigeration means the eggs can absorb odors and flavors from other foods in there; countertop connoisseurs claim the room-temp eggs taste better. But if you keep eggs stored in their carton, and minimize the amount of smelly food in your fridge, off flavors shouldn’t be an issue. Some chefs believe room-temperature eggs to be ideal for baking; it’s why you’ll see recipes recommending you bring eggs to room temp before mixing. (You’ve probably been storing these 11 foods wrong the whole time.)

If you want to try room-temp eggs, head down to the local farmers’ market and talk to the sellers down there. Chances are they haven’t washed or refrigerated the eggs, the cuticle is intact, and you could keep the eggs on the counter. See if you can tell the difference—just remember to practice consistency: If an unwashed egg goes in the fridge, it should stay there until you’re ready to use it. Next, take a look at the surprising things that need to be refrigerated.

Sources
 
Medically reviewed by Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, on December 19, 2019

Alexa Erickson
Alexa Erickson is a lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, SHAPE Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about science news, health, wellness, food and drink, beauty, fashion, home decor, and her travels. Visit her site Living by Lex.