Why North Americans Refrigerate Eggs and Europeans Don’t

The most important part is keeping harmful bacteria at bay. But does that mean you have to refrigerate? Not according to Europeans.

In North America, practically everything goes into the fridge. But not only do Europeans keep their eggs on the counter, but they also strongly recommend against refrigerating eggs. What gives? Well, there are two different philosophies about preventing the same nasty bug.

At the root of the issue is Salmonella, one of the most common causes of bacterial food poisoning. It can run rampant through chicken farms, turning up on the outside of eggs thanks to contamination from dirt and feces; more insidious is when it’s inside the shell, thanks to the bacteria infecting a hen’s ovaries.

European food safety experts took a different approach. They left the cuticle intact, made it illegal for egg producers to wash eggs, discouraged refrigeration (which can cause mildew growth—and bacterial contamination—should the eggs sweat as they come back to room temps), and started a program of vaccinating chickens against salmonella. The approach appears to be effective: In 2000, the UK had more than 14,000 egg-related cases of food poisoning; in more recent years, after their egg safety measures had been widely adopted, the number had reportedly dropped to 8,000. The U.S. has about 79,000 cases, but with a much larger population, of course.

There are objective and subjective pros and cons to room-temp eggs versus refrigerated ones. Refrigeration means the eggs can absorb odours and flavours from other foods in there; countertop connoisseurs claim the room-temp eggs taste better. But if you keep eggs stored in their carton, and minimize the amount of smelly food in your fridge, off flavours shouldn’t be an issue. Some chefs believe room-temperature eggs to be ideal for baking; it’s why you’ll see recipes recommending you bring eggs to room temp before mixing. (Keep in mind, you should never keep these foods in the refrigerator.)

If you want to try room-temp eggs, head down to the local farmers’ market and talk to the sellers down there. Chances are they haven’t washed or refrigerated the eggs, the cuticle is intact, and you could keep the eggs on the counter. See if you can tell the difference—just remember to practice consistency: If an unwashed egg goes in the fridge, it should stay there until you’re ready to use it.

Medically reviewed by Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN.

Next, find out how often you should clean your fridge.

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