Why Farmers Market Eggs Aren't Refrigerated

For food lovers, going to a farmers market on a sunny day is always a delight for our senses. Wandering from stall to stall, you will find small business owners and farmers selling all types of delicious goods, such as fresh produce, locally produced honey, artisanal cheeses, fragrant herbs, and prepared foods. But sometimes, if you're lucky, you will find an egg seller showcasing eggs that are much fresher than anything you can find in your local, high-end supermarket.

However, if you're not familiar with farmers markets, you might be puzzled by the fact that these eggs are showcased in the market without any refrigeration. Having bought eggs from cold cases your entire life, you might wonder why farmers market eggs are sold at room temperature, and if the eggs are safe to eat. You might be concerned about contamination and food poisoning, but you need not worry at all. Because of the protective membrane that naturally surrounds the eggs to keep germs away, farmers market eggs are safe despite being stored at room temperature. However, U.S. food safety regulations require factories to wash away the membrane from their eggs, which makes refrigeration necessary.

The science of cleaning eggs

To explain why farmers market eggs can be stored at room temperature, we must explain how eggs are processed in the United States. By regulations dictated by the federal government, all laid eggs produced by large poultry farms are required to go through a washing process that uses water that is no less than 90 degrees Fahrenheit and a detergent, and then be thoroughly dried before being packaged and distributed to grocery stores. The purpose of this process is to eliminate any dirt and chicken feces that can adhere to the exterior of the egg, which can carry harmful bacteria such as salmonella.

However, the washing process also destroys a thin, invisible membrane that naturally occurs on eggs. Called the "cuticle" or "bloom," this layer acts as a natural barrier to keep microbes such as bacteria from entering the porous eggshells. Since American eggs are sold without that barrier, they have to be kept cold in order to prevent bacteria from growing on the eggshells and entering the eggs. On the other hand, unwashed eggs (such as those from farmers markets) with their cuticles intact are safe to store at room temperature, according to the Egg Safety Center.

Keeping eggs fresh

Whether you purchase your eggs at room temperature from a farmers market vendor or refrigerated from the supermarket, keeping them cool after purchase can extend the shelf life of your eggs. While eggs stored at room temperature can stay fresh for about three weeks, refrigerated eggs can stay fresh for 45 days. So, unless you are planning to use up your farmers market eggs fairly quickly, it would be best to store them at low temperatures.

Of course, if you cannot wait to taste your farm fresh eggs, there are many recipes that highlight their natural flavors. A sheet pan full of sunny side–up eggs is a fantastic solution for Sunday brunch, while a batch of boiled eggs can be made in advance to fill sandwiches or create egg salads. Fresh egg yolks can be turned into homemade mayonnaise and aioli, while all of the whites can be used for healthy breakfast scrambles.