How Long do Farm Fresh Eggs Last?

As a producer of farm fresh eggs, we had several questions – How long are eggs good? Do I need to refrigerate eggs? How do I know if eggs are bad? I went digging for an answer and what I learned along the way might surprise you. We started with the eggs most consumers are familiar with: 

The USDA Model

USDA certified grocery store eggs come from facilities so disgusting if customers ever set foot in one of these chicken houses, most would never buy another grocery store egg – ever. The answer however is fairly easy, the USDA publishes the information and here’s the basics:USDA Egg Grading Guide

  • USDA timetables start at packaging time and eggs are typically collected every 1-7 days at commercial poultry houses
  • Eggs are collected, washed, and packaged
  • Every carton must be stamped with a plant number and a Julian pack date. i.e. “P-XXXX DDD” (The plant can be looked up and then viewed on satellite maps)
  • The “Sell By” date is 30 days after packaging and the “Expires On” date is 45 days after packaging

So according to the USDA eggs are good for 45 days + the 1 to 7 days they typically sit before packaging, which adds up to 52 days after being laid by the hen. However, these guidelines are specific to USDA eggs because they are all washed which removes the bloom, a waxy outer protective coating causing, and the eggs to deteriorate more rapidly.

The Scientific Approach

Eggs have several layers of protection from the elements that keep the contents viable for as long as possible. The first is an outer waxy coating meant to seal up the pores in the shell. Here’s a bit from a Dr. Mercola article on the subject:

An eggshell contains approximately 7,500 pores or openings. The outer surface is covered with a waxy cuticle, sealing the egg and helping prevent bacteria from entering. . .Gases are transferred and moisture is lost through these pores. . . .When moisture is lost, carbon dioxide is also lost, speeding up the breakdown of the egg. Loss of carbon dioxide causes the egg’s pH to increase, which results in thinning of the albumen.

As the gasses exchange the size of the bubble between the shell and the inner membrane increases (the bubble size is the primary difference between USDA grade A and AA). So by submerging an egg in water, if it’s floats it’s likely edible but not very fresh. If it’s suspended in the water column it’s likely a bad egg, and if it sits on the bottom, it should be a good egg. This test is not perfect, but a good guide.

To Refrigerate or Not to Refrigerate

Most people in North America might be surprised to learn that in Europe, and most everywhere else in the world for that matter, chicken eggs are sold on store shelves – without refrigeration. So do they need to be refrigerated? In a word, no. . . BUT if they have been refrigerated previously, then they must be kept refrigerated until used. If a refrigerated egg is left out, it can collect condensation and bacteria on the shell which can work it’s way into the egg.However, with the bloom in place and natural more gradual temperature changes, this is much less of a concern.

There are plenty of articles on refrigerating eggs and the USDA claims it’s done to reduce the chance of Salmonella bacteria multiplying to harmful levels inside the egg. What the USDA is not telling you is the increased risk of Salmonella in eggs relates directly to the disgusting corporate factory farming model they support in the first place.

From Joel Salatin’s book You can Farm:

The industrial model sports a house as long as a football field with three tiers of cages. Each cage is about 22″ by 16″ and houses nine birds. In most, at least one dead bird is in some stage of decomposition, being pushed through the mesh floor by its former cellmates, who hardly have enough room to squat. The house stinks to high heavens, is dusty and dark, and generally looks like the bowels of the catacombs rather than a light, airy birdhouse. A steady diet of hormones, medications, cooked chicken feathers, and guts, as well as grains is touted as a “balanced, natural diet.” Without a nest, the birds drop their eggs on the slanted wire mesh bottom of the cage, the eggs roll to an outside edge where they begin a long journey via canvas conveyor belt to the processing room.

Even a scientific novice can see how these conditions contribute to the salmonella problems which have plagued the industrial poultry model advocated by the USDA. Clearly farmers like us who advocate giving chickens access to fresh pasture and forest filled with grasses, seeds, insects,  sunlight to maintain proper vitamin levels, and clean nesting boxes to lay their eggs are the lunatics endangering public health! Not to mention the fact that we provide high quality Soy, GMO, hormone, and antibiotic free, vitamin rich feeds that run anywhere from 40-55 cents/lb as opposed to the 8 cents/lb the large chicken producers use.That’s how you end up at $2 for a dozen eggs.

 The Modern Day Egg Farm

Most of you have probably never been on a commercial poultry farm (most have signs warning onlookers to “Keep Out”). We have a local egg farm that contracts with a grocery chain called Brookshire’s to provide eggs. Here’s the satellite photo:

Brookshires Egg Farm The long buildings are the chicken houses which are typically 40ft wide by 300ft long. Semi trucks come and go from the top left to pick up eggs for delivery to the distribution center a few miles away. In the bottom right you can see part of a black settlement pond. This is where the water used to wash out the floor of the chicken house is piped to settle out. A local farmer is paid about 1.5 cents/gallon to dispose of this black water, which is spread on his fields as fertilizer. Brookshires Egg Farm Smell

 

In the second picture, you can see the red outline that indicates the point at which the smell of decomposing chickens, ammonia and fecal particulate matter hit your nose like a brick wall – depending on which way the wind is blowing. This represents an egregious violation of property rights, but is considered normal, modern day farming. Thanks to government regulations and protections, little can be done about it. These protections and subversion of traditional farming practices has come about thanks to poultry industry lobbies and large corporate farms using their power and influence to control the very agencies who are supposed to regulate them and protect consumers.

As in interesting side note, under current regulations if the farmer added a small fenced in area (say 10’x10′ with a concrete floor) the birds could access for at least part of the day, then these would be USDA certified “Free Range” poultry products. Seems legit right?

 

 

Earthstead Farm’s Eggs

How are your eggs produced? That’s the question every consumer should be asking before buying eggs you plan to eat. Our process is simple, we buy chicks from either a local farmer (straight run which means hens and roosters 50/50) or from a local hatchery where we get pullets (hens only and roosters end up killed in a grinder at the hatchery) Our chicks are raised in a brooder where they are given our non-medicated, soy and GMO free chick starter, kept under warm heat lamps or propane brooder hoods and drink Reverse Osmosis water for several weeks. At that point they are transferred to pasture shelters where they have access to fresh ground every day to express their natural foraging traits, soak up the sunlight, and get a healthy mix of our feed, live bugs, and plant matter.

If we have roosters in the flock, they are processed after about 12-14 weeks and sold as 2-4 lb game birds. After about 6 months when the hens start laying they are moved into a mobile chicken coop (egg mobile) which is moved around the farm and used with 100′ of poultry net to protect the birds from predators. The egg mobile is moved every 2-4 days with the condition of the ground being the determining factor. We initially let them free range but after loosing 6 in one day (about 30 overall @$20/bird having fed them for 6 months) we started using the poultry net. Since then we have lost very few birds.

They are either let out each morning, closed up each night, or their shelter is left open, with protected provided by the poultry net. The nesting boxes are filled with clean wood shavings, water is provided with poultry nipples (best way we have found to provide clean drinking water) fed by 2 independent 15 gallon drums. They have a canvas shade tarp off the back of the coop to shelter them from the hot summer sun, and at night they roost on branches in the open air aviary above the nesting boxes. Chickens in the wild roost in trees so the branches help mimic a natural habitat. We keep at least 2 roosters with each flock of chickens for flock protection, so our eggs are fertilized unlike commercial eggs.

Eggs are collected daily and brought in for packaging. We do our best to NOT wash any of the eggs, however about 1/3 of them (more on rainy/wet days) usually have a spot or streak on them that we remove.  In that case we use a scrubber with a bit of water to gently clean the dirty area. We do our best to leave the waxy coating intact. The eggs are left to dry and then placed in cartons according to size. The eggs are then put into a refrigerator until they are loaded into thick Styrofoam coolers with cold packs for delivery to our customers and a local farm store.

We currently keep our chickens for 2 years as opposed to the commercial industry standard of 1 year. At this time we collect 1-2 dozen eggs  per day, and as we ramp up next year we plan to use a “Laid On” date stamp for our eggs so customers will know the eggs were laid within 24 hours of the date stamp. How long they are good is up to them! As local farmers we see educating consumers as half of our mission, because we believe educated consumers will choose integrity foods.

 

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