It’s a good time to talk about food safety, egg handling and storage now that your backyard flock is laying eggs or getting close to laying, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Craig Coufal, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension poultry specialist, College Station, said handling, cleaning and storing eggs safely is important to prevent foodborne illnesses related to poultry.

“These are our best recommendations on handling eggs from the nest to storage,” he said. “They’re meant to prevent cross contamination and preserve egg quality until they’re used.” Coufal also produced a webinar series that provides a full range of information regarding backyard flocks, egg production and recommended egg handling.

Collect clean eggs

Coufal said clean eggs start in the coop. Remove chicken waste, sanitize roosts and nest boxes, and replace nesting litter regularly.

It’s a good idea to prevent hens from roosting in the nest boxes at night, Coufal said, to reduce waste accumulation. Clean out nest boxes regularly to reduce egg contamination. Well-maintained nests also reduce egg breakage.

Collect eggs as soon and often as possible, Coufal said. Prompt collection of eggs reduces the likelihood they will be broken or become dirty.

“Collecting eggs twice a day or once a day at minimum will translate into cleaner, fresher eggs,” he said. “The quicker you get those eggs cleaned and stored in the refrigerator the better.”

Cleaning eggs

Eggs are porous and have active bacteria on the outside, so they should not be dipped or soaked in soapy water, Coufal said.

There are many ways to wash an egg, but the temperature of the wash water is the key factor, he said. The wash-water must be warmer than the egg. Avoid using dish soap or scented cleaning solutions as they can affect the eggs’ taste.

After washing, eggs should be rinsed with clean water that is slightly warmer than the wash water, he said. The eggs should be allowed to air dry and then stored.

“It’s an easy process that can reduce the chances of foodborne illnesses,” he said.

Storing eggs

Coufal said eggs should be refrigerated as soon as possible. Refrigeration preserves quality and reduces the potential for bacterial growth.

“There is a lot of discussion about room-temperature versus refrigeration,” he said. “Eggs will naturally degrade more rapidly at room temperature. An egg stored at room temperature might be edible for only three weeks compared to 15 weeks if it’s refrigerated.”

Eggs should be stored at or below 45 degrees, he said.

Salmonella

There were 1,134 people infected with outbreak strains of salmonella in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

Two deaths were reported, including one in Texas.

The majority of salmonella cases involved contact with chicks or ducklings, but Coufal said handling eggs can also spread the bacteria that naturally occurs in the intestinal tract of chickens.

“Proper sanitation is the best defense from salmonella,” he said. “Washing the eggs and properly washing your hands and any tools used any time you handle eggs, or the chickens, will help prevent contamination.”