When it comes down to food, each country and culture has its own way of handling things and it can be shocking to the people from outside. An example of this is eggs. You might have noticed that in some places, such as The United States, Japan, New Zealand and Scandinavia, eggs are kept refrigerated before and after purchase, while European and Asian countries don’t. But a question lingers: which one is correct? What is the healthiest and safest option?
Everything starts with the preparation of the eggs before they’re actually put in the cartons. This will determine if they need refrigeration or not. In the United States, USDA and FDA regulations state that all eggs must go through a cleaning process to sanitize and eliminate any potential pathogens stuck to the outer shells. A downside of this process is that the cuticle of the egg is removed. This is a naturally created film that seals the shell and keeps bacteria out. Without the cuticle, there is no protective barrier which means the eggs must be immediately refrigerated to prevent bacteria growth.
Many other countries came to the opposite conclusion when it came to egg safety. Most Asian and European countries opt to not wash their eggs because they believe the cuticle is the most effective natural barrier to keep bacteria away, thus they’re not required to be refrigerated. In Ireland, for instance, it’s illegal to wash a certain grade of eggs. The washing debate actually goes back decades to the time when people were washing their eggs but without any standard or science to it. In the United States, the process of egg washing got more sophisticated and regulated during the 1970s. Japan decided to systematically wash their eggs after a big outbreak of salmonella in the 1990s. However in Australia, egg washing is not mandatory.
To Wash Or Not To Wash
The American population has always been warned against consuming runny yolks or improperly refrigerated cartons because it causes salmonella. According to the FDA, each year in the U.S. there are 79,000 reported cases of foodborne illnesses and 30 deaths linked to salmonella contaminated eggs. In the UK, there have been around 100 salmonella cases related to eggs from 2017 to 2020.
But washing the eggs or not is not the only way to prevent salmonella. In the UK, there is a mandatory salmonella vaccination for all commercial laying hens. This method drastically decreased the incidences of salmonella. Although it’s not a mandate in the United States, many producers use the vaccine. Egg washing, leaving the natural cuticle of the egg as a bacterial barrier, as well as using vaccines are all valid ways to prevent bacterial infections such as salmonella.