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Eggs and Eggshells

March 19, 2014

Credit: 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: all the rage
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.

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 

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

Comments

I have always eaten raw

By SherryLynn

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

By Margaret Boyles

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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