Eggs and Eggshells

Eggs and Eggshells
Margaret Boyle


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After years of warning consumers not to eat eggs (or at least the yolks) because of their high cholesterol content, research has prompted the medical/nutrition establishment to bring the “incredible edible” back to the menu.

One physician wrote, “Egg reduction or elimination [with a few possible exceptions, including allergies] must now join the list of urban myths from 20th-century medical care.”

Yay! I’ve always eaten eggs liberally. Seems as if half the households in my town raise at least a few eggs for sale; the corner store carries fresh eggs from a small farmer up the road, and most years I have eggs from my own small laying flock.

Relatively cheap, high in easily digested protein and other vital nutrients, eggs offer the family cook unparalleled versatility. Fried, boiled, poached, baked, scrambled, souffléed, pickled, devilled (try this recipe), meringued—there’s an egg dish for every meal and any special occasion.

Eggs also star as leavening, binding, and moisture-holding agents in baked goods, pancakes, custards, quiches, batters, hashes, and meat loaves. Various kinds of egg-wash add shine, color, and/or or crispness to the surface of pastries and other baked products.

Extra eggs also freeze well, either separated or whole (whites and yolks mixed together). Some people freeze them in lightly oiled ice-cube trays, then store the frozen cubes in containers. Thawed, they cook and taste like fresh eggs.

Backyard Chickens

You may have noticed that backyard chicken-keeping has become very popular, even in urban vacant lots and on rooftops, a trend that has forced cities and towns across the nation to rework building codes and zoning ordinances to allow the practice under strict guidelines.

Home and community gardeners emphasize the dual value of chickens in their food-production systems, since they provide valuable manure as well as fresh eggs (or meat). The hen manure and bedding (straw, hay, sawdust) provide plant nutrients and boost the organic matter content of the soil.

Laying hens are the easiest livestock to keep. Once you set them up with suitable living and nesting quarters, they cost very little, especially if allowed to range during the warmer months, when their preferred foods are bugs and weeds. I’ve gotten deeply attached to my “working girls.” I find them whimsical and charismatic, with distinct individual personalities.

Bacterial Contamination

The primary warning on egg consumption these days involves contamination from bacteria, primarily salmonella. Even though the risk is very low, affecting primarily the very young, the very old, and the very sick, you probably want to take it seriously.

Salmonella can survive for weeks outside a living body, and they are not destroyed by freezing. Ultraviolet radiation and heat accelerate their demise; they perish after being heated to 55°C (131°F) for 90 min, or to 60°C (140°F) for 12 min. To protect against Salmonella infection, heating food for at least ten minutes at 75°C (167°F) is recommended, so the centre of the food reaches this temperature.

Food-safety experts say: wash your hands after handling raw eggs, never serve raw or lightly cooked unpasteurized eggs, and forgo sunny-side-up and over-easy, cooking all egg products until both whites and yolks turn firm.

These warnings extend to organic eggs, eggs from your local farmer or farmer’s market, and eggs from your own hens.

Unless you can find commercially pasteurized eggs, don’t use raw eggs for homemade mayonnaise, ice cream, raw-egg dressings, or eggnogs. No undercooked, runny eggs for breakfast. No raw-egg-white drinks for muscle-building. And don’t sample the raw cookie dough.

You can find instructions online for do-it-yourself pasteurization. As an experienced and ardent do-it-yourselfer, I wouldn’t trust raw eggs I’d pasteurized myself. I’ve had two bouts of food poisoning in my lifetime, and I don’t ever want another one.

But you can prepare cooked-egg bases for most raw-egg favorites.

Eggs for Medicinal and Cosmetic Use

You’ll find innumerable of web pages advocating raw egg yolks, whites, whole eggs, or the thin, inner membrane of a raw egg for treating/curing burns, acne, oily skin, large pores, for removing wrinkles, old scars and more, as well as many do-it-yourself beauty sites that suggest using raw, unpasteurized egg whites or yolks as facial masks and hair/scalp treatments.

In the past, I’ve both tried and recommended many of these practices. After all, eggs, egg membranes, and eggshells been used for various medicinal and cosmetic purposes for thousands of years.

But I no longer use any part of the raw egg for healing or hair or skin care. There are so many other ingredients available in my home (aloe leaf, oatmeal, olive oil, cider vinegar, baking soda, herb tinctures and salves) it doesn’t seem worth the risk.

Would pasteurized eggs work as well as raw eggs for medicinal or cosmetic purposes? I can’t find information either confirming or denying whether the pasteurization process would destroy the active compounds that make raw eggs useful for these purposes.

Using Eggshells

If you eat eggs, you’ll have eggshells. I generally toss mine in with the rest of the kitchen scraps, which end up in the compost pile at one edge of my big garden.

But lately, I’ve begun saving the shells to grind into powder. I plan to treat each of my tomato transplants and summer-squash hills to a handful of eggshell powder to add calcium to the soil to prevent blossom end rot, which can be a real challenge during summers of erratic rainfall.

Powdered eggshells can serve as a digestible calcium supplement in the diets of people and companion animals. One teaspoon of eggshell powder makes about 800 milligrams of calcium. It also contains small amounts of other essential minerals present in the shell.

You can add the powdered eggshells to baked goods, or sprinkle them into soups and casseroles.

I’ve read that old-time sauerkraut makers sometimes added crushed or powdered eggshells between the layers of cabbage, where it gradually dissolved in the mild acid environment of the fermenting kraut. Today, some people dissolve the eggshell powder in cider vinegar and add the vinegar to salad dressings.

Before powdering eggshells for various uses, experts recommend sterilizing them first (unless the shells come from hardboiled eggs). Just cover the empty shells with water and boil for five minutes. Remove them from the water, set individually on a cookie sheet to dry. When the shells are completely dry, grind them to a fine powder in a blender and store in a closed glass container.

Some people feed eggshells back to their chickens, who need an abundant supply of calcium to provide for both their own needs and for making new eggshell material.

Egg allergies: Two to three percent of the population, most of them children, have an egg allergy that calls for avoiding products containing eggs. You may find eggs in unexpected places: marshmallows, candies, crackers, egg substitutes, salad dressings, and the shiny egg wash on hard pretzels.

Check these out:

Ever had your mind blown by an egg?
A Review of the Uses of Poultry Eggshells and Shell Membranes

~ By  Margaret Boyles

About This Blog

Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.


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Eggs not refrigerated in Europe - here is why the difference

Refrigeration sounds like a smart thing as it slows down the growth of unwanted bacteria that may infect an egg. More specifically, salmonella bacteria are responsible for 150,000 reported illnesses every year in the US.

Two questions come to mind:

1. Why are there any cases of salmonella poisoning in eggs in the US?

2. Why don’t other countries refrigerate their eggs?

The answers may surprise you.

Let’s take a step back. Salmonella can infect eggs in one of two ways. Either the hen was infected with salmonella, or the egg came in contact with chicken feces that had the salmonella bacteria. The latter is by far the more prevalent in the US.

In order to minimize infection from feces, the US mandates eggs be washed. Not by consumers, but by the producers. An elaborate system has been set up to carefully wash and dry the eggs before they are packed and shipped off in refrigerated trucks to the supermarket. It’s quite cool, when you think about it. Billions of eggs need to be gently handled by machines in order not to break their delicate shells.

In Europe, eggs are not washed. We asked Oscar Garrison, Director of Food Safety at the United Egg Producers, representing 95% of America’s egg producers, if eggs in the are US that much dirtier than those in Europe that they require washing?

Garrsion: Eggs are not dirtier in the U.S. than in Europe, but the U.S. abides by different rules and regulations on how we handle and store eggs. Government regulations require that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) -graded eggs be carefully washed and sanitized before being packed and packaged for the store.

That still doesn’t explain why Europeans don’t wash their eggs, and why they don’t require refrigeration. Europe in known for more consumer friendly regulations, and it sounds like clean, safe eggs would be an imperative. The answer may lie in the fact that European food agencies also abide by higher standards of animal husbandry. This means larger cages for hens, and in many countries, a substantial percentage of poultry raised in more roomy environs (think free range or similar). This means there is less chance a hen will lay an egg where she craps. So perhaps European eggs aren’t as dirty…

A marvel of nature you need to know about is the protective coat each egg receives as a parting gift from the mother hen. The cuticle is like a wax job that helps protect an egg from harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, studies have shown that washing an egg may harm the cuticle or reduce its efficacy. Garrsion does not concur:

It has been long believed that egg washing can deteriorate the cuticle, and in turn, reduce the shell’s ability to resist bacteria penetration. However, recent research suggests this is not the case. In the October 2011 publication of the Journal of Food Protection, researchers reject this perspective and report that the U.S. egg washing procedure does not affect the shell cuticle and supports evidence that washing can reduce the risk of bacteria entering the shell. In any case, the removal of the cuticle is not a concern in the United States due to the rapid turnover of eggs in the marketplace and a lack of long term storage.

In Europe, the approach is quite the opposite. European Union guidelines clearly state that washing the eggs “may favour trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers.”

To summarize, European eggs are not refrigerated, not washed, and end up sickening less people than here. The US is more effective at producing low cost eggs, cleans the poop off, and requires refrigeration. Yet in 2010, half a billion eggs were recalled after potentially being tainted with salmonella.

If you are reading this and thinking of storing your eggs in the pantry instead of the fridge, think again. According to Garrsion: Maintaining a consistent, cool temperature is critical to safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires eggs to be refrigerated within 36 hours of lay, and stored under refrigeration throughout the supply chain. Once eggs are refrigerated, it is important to keep them that way. A cold egg left out at room temperature can sweat, facilitating the growth of bacteria that could contaminate the egg. Refrigerated eggs should not be left out more than two hours. In some countries where refrigeration is not readily available, eggs are often consumed a couple of weeks after they are laid without major health consequences, but this is not a preferred practice, particularly in countries in which refrigeration is prevalent.

Of course, if you buy your eggs directly from a farmer, and they have not been refrigerated, you can store them in room temperature as well.

Either way, eggs are a wonderful, nutrient dense food. Enjoy them thoroughly cooked and you’ll minimize your salmonella worries to nil.
*no link posted, tried to post link for source and almanac said spam filter triggered and would not let me post. You can Google and find source.

Many good points, Jim!

Thanks for this post with its many well-documented points that adds important information to my original.

Writing for a mass audience that mostly buys eggs from large-scale commercial producers prompted my extremely cautious approach to safety. 


The government doesnt know squat

My family was blessed by longevity (106 years, 100 years) until the government (now 62 years?), that "knows best" got involved. They ate eggs! OMG! Tired of all of the "science". Could common sense please make a comeback soon?

Using eggshells to deter slugs on a vegetable patch

If the eggshells have not been rinsed or baked prior to being crushed and scattered on a vegetable patch is it possible the vegetables may contract salmonella?

It's complicated

This topic has concerned agricultural and food-safety scientists for a long time, Louise. Here’s some recent hard science on the topic.

So, although salmonella can move from the soil into plant roots, and from there, into aboveground parts of the plant, it’s unlikely your unpasturized eggshells will contaminate your crops with salmonella. 

But if you’re saving and handling eggshells, why not crush and pasturize them, just to err on the side of safety.

I have always eaten raw

I have always eaten raw cookie dough and cake batter, still eat raw cookie dough and cake batter, and will continue to eat raw cookie dough and cake batter! (as well as the occasional bite of raw, risen bread dough) The statistical probability of getting sick from eating a raw egg is in the neighborhood of 1 in 20,000 raw eggs. I always wash the egg shell with soapy water and keep my hands washed and out of the dough. Basic, basic, basic.

Ah, how well I remember. Some

Ah, how well I remember. Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve sneaking blobs of eaw cookie dough from the mixing bowl and licking the eggbeater after my mom had finished whippping the cake batter smooth. 

Today, I choose not to take any chances with raw eggs, even from my own hens.

It's true that the risk of getting sick from raw eggs is extremely low, and continuing to decrease. It's also true that most people who munch raw cookie dough or make their own raw-egg salad dressings don't get sick.

Until they do. That's the nature of risk.

While hand-washing is an important food-safety practice, you can't count on it, or on washing the eggshells themselves to protect against salmonella infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In the United States, Salmonella infection causes more hospitalizations and deaths than any other germ found in food, resulting in $365 million in direct medical costs annually.

Salmonella can be sneaky. You can get Salmonella from perfectly normal-looking eggs. Salmonella can live on both the outside and inside of eggs that appear to be normal. Chicken feces on the outside of egg shells used to be a common cause of Salmonella contamination.

To counter that, regulators in the 1970s put strict procedures into place for cleaning and inspecting eggs. Now, Salmonella is sometimes found on the inside of eggs; it gets there as the egg is forming.

As recently as 2010, nearly 2000 people were sickened by contaminated eggs, prompting a nationwide recall of more than half a billion eggs.

Food scientists say that the reported incidence of foodborne illnesses represents the tip of an iceberg; most people who get sick from their food just pass it off as a "stomach bug" and don't make the connection to something they ate.


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