What's the big difference? Prior to the 1940's eggs were kept on the counter because there were no refrigerators! What has changed?
Before I go any further I am going to just state the obvious because I feel it is necessary... Nature is so amazing and it's incredible to me that everything is created to have a purpose!
Ok, now that I got my soulful-hippie two cents out of the way, we can discuss what actually happens when an egg comes out of the hen.
Pastured EggAn egg shell is very porous and has anywhere from 3-6,000 pores covering the entire surface! (source) When the hen lays an egg her body does one last thing to protect the egg before hitting the air: she deposits a natural anti-bacterial mucus membrane called the bloom. The bloom comes out wet on the egg but then dries quickly, filling in all those little pores on the egg to protect it against things like bacteria and outside gases or chemicals.
The bloom also serves a purpose of keeping the egg fresh on the inside. The bloom keeps the moisture contained leaving a much bigger, firmer and more bright orange yolk. The albumen, the soft, jelly-like substance surrounding the yolk, is slightly hazy looking. (source) This is a reaction with carbon dioxide and proves the egg to be fresh.
Something else to consider is, in nature, it takes about 2 weeks for the hen to lay the eggs and then "set" (incubate) on them. During this time period, the eggs have not been refrigerated and will eventually hatch into vibrant little chicks.
Then why is refrigeration necessary in a large egg producing factory?
Industrial EggLet's take what we learned about an egg and put it into the industrial setting. We now know the surface of an egg is extremely porous and when we consider the way things are "managed" in an industrial environment, it can be quite frightening to think about eating an industrial egg.
We are all aware that in large egg producing factories hens are living in crowded and unhealthy conditions, breathing in the ammonia fumes all day, every day and have little to no sunlight. Common sense will tell us that sick hens equals sick eggs.
Within 7 days of when the sickly hens (who may or may not have salmonella) lay their sickly eggs, workers take the eggs and wash them to get all the dirt and feathers off of them. Some companies take it a step further and rinse the eggs with a chemical wash.
No bloom + chemical wash = chemicals seeping into the egg
Companies may also spray the egg with their own protective coating (mineral or GE vegetable oil) to make them appear satisfactory to the consumer. (source) If the eggs you buy at the grocery store appear to be shiny that's why! Once washed, rinsed and/or sprayed the eggs then HAVE to be placed in a refrigerator to protect them from being infected with bacteria. I've read that several companies actually pasteurize the whole egg to ensure there is no bacterial growth going on. From the time of being laid to the time it actually hits your belly, the egg may sit for weeks! Talk about a nutrient depleted egg!
Remember how I mentioned the bloom serves a purpose of keeping the egg fresh? Well, with industrial eggs since the bloom is washed off, the pores are then exposed. This creates open airways to allow any kind of bacteria (think salmonella) to enter. Not only that, the quality and freshness of the egg drops. This is why if you crack an industrial egg open, the yolk is small and pale yellow. The albumen loses it's haziness and becomes translucent. All are indications of an egg that has lost its freshness.
So Do Eggs Need to be Refrigerated?Scenario 1: Okay let's say you buy eggs from the farm with the blooms still intact and you put them in the fridge immediately. No worries! But let's say you take those same farm fresh bloom-intact refrigerated eggs and let them sit out to the point they start to sweat. At that time, it's imperative to use the eggs as soon as possible because when the egg sweats it loses the bloom. I also wouldn't recommend putting them back in the fridge because since the egg has no bloom it is now at the point where the quality and freshness are quickly degrading.
Scenario 2: Now let's say you buy eggs from the farm with the blooms still intact and instead of putting them in the refrigerator immediately, you leave them on the counter. No worries! But if you wash the eggs, you must use the eggs as soon as possible. Again, the bloom comes off as soon as any liquid hits it.
Scenario 3: You buy free range eggs from the grocery store..... wait. I don't recommend this scenario to anyone because industrial eggs are bad news! BUT if you have to buy them, always keep them refrigerated... no matter what! If you take them out, use them immediately!
The Ideal TemperatureWith backyard eggs or eggs from a trustworthy farm source, you can get away with leaving them on your counter for a couple months if they are stored around 65°F to 70°F. If you are nervous they may not be fresh, you can do the float test to see if they are okay to eat or not. With factory farm eggs, it's necessary to keep them at a temperature of 40°F (USDA guidelines) so no bacterial growth occurs.
If you are still worried and consider yourself somewhat of a germ-o-phobe a good general rule of thumb to follow is to keep the eggs the way in which you received them. If they were refrigerated, keep them refrigerated. If they were sitting out at the farm store, leave them on your counter! And always ask the person you are purchasing the eggs from if they have washed them or not.
A good solution to ensuring you receive the freshest of the fresh eggs is to have your own backyard chickens!
Special Thanks to...www.HealthyRootsHappySoul.com for this great post.