I remember the first time I went to the grocery store in Yemen. I was surprised by a number of things: That there was no cheese section, that there was a separate place to pay for bread and produce, and that I was followed around by a gaggle of curious boys. But I was most surprised by this: Eggs are not refrigerated in the Middle East. I almost didn’t find the eggs because I was looking in the cold sections, but they were just stacked out in the open on a lukewarm shelf. When I brought home my dozen eggs, at first I set them on a shelf. But I just couldn’t get behind that, being an American, so I placed them in our mini-fridge in our hotelpartment. I wasn’t sure if this was necessary, but figured I shouldn’t take the risk. I had enough stomach ailments to deal with.
Then we traveled to Asia, and they certainly don’t refrigerate eggs there. Same for France. And now, I’ve learned, same for Spain. What gives? Are Americans just ultra-paranoid and wasting a bunch of energy unnecessarily chilling eggs?
Thankfully, this NPR article cracked the case.
It all has to do with salmonella. Preventing it, that is. Americans got scared of salmonella (which can be present in chicken ovaries) so egg producers in America (and Japan, Australia and Scandinavia) started giving freshly-laid eggs a thorough soap and hot water bath before storing in a cold spot to prevent bacteria growth. Americans then buy eggs and put them straight in the fridge because you don’t want eggs to go from cold to warm (apparently this causes them to sweat, which could cause mold). Added bonus: Refrigerated eggs stay fresh for up to 50 days; whereas lukewarm eggs keep for about 21 days).
Other countries are fearful of salmonella as well, but in many of those countries, producers are required to vaccinate their chickens against salmonella. This is not a requirement in the U.S., thus the washing. (The article also points out that when egg washing is done incorrectly it can actually spread bacteria. So many countries think washing eggs can do more harm than good).
So, all countries want to prevent humans from contracting salmonella, we just have different ways of going about it.
Also, turns out that eggs are laid with a built-in protective sheen on the shell, which explains why eggs are so shiny here in Spain. This protective layer helps keeps bacteria out. In the U.S., that layer is washed away, and then a new oily layer is added by machine before the eggs are chilled.
If you have eggs on the brain now, check out my deviled egg recipe, which is so eggcellent, I dare say they are the best deviled eggs I’ve ever tasted. And below is a pic of a yummy egg lunch I made up last month when the grocery situation was bleak and I didn’t feel like going to the store. (I almost always have onions, cheese, and eggs, and yes, I keep them all the fridge). I caramelized some red onions (in butter and olive oil) and then made a roux in the pan by adding some flour and a little milk. Then, I added grated Swiss cheese, a little dijon mustard and a pinch of nutmeg. I scooped that sauce into little pots (you can use a ramekin) and then cracked an egg on top and cooked at about 325 for 8 or 9 minutes. (My egg was a little too done; I prefer it runny).
To the Incredible Edible Egg (Stored Cold or at Room Temperature),
The Dame in Spain