So, you purchased your hens and they are starting to lay. But the eggs are a little messy when you bring them in. Should you scrub them with antibacterial soap? What about the eggs that you found in a pile behind the hen house—how do you know they are okay to eat? You cracked an egg and it had a little spot of blood in it—what does that mean? These are all questions that every new chicken owner asks and hopefully we can answer them here.
The right start
The key to clean eggs is in the nesting boxes. Keeping clean litter in the boxes will assure that your eggs will not be messy. If they are covered in droppings, you need to change the litter in the box. If they are covered in dried yolk, you have an egg eater and you need to deal with her.
But let’s say a few messy ones come in. How do you clean the eggs? As little as possible. Eggs naturally have a coating on them to keep the insides fresh. If you scrub them with soap, you will remove the coating and your eggs will not stay fresh as long. Generally wiping them off with a damp cloth is all that is needed. Sometimes a dry nylon scrubber, or old toothbrush, will do the trick. You can get them clean enough to put into the refrigerator and then clean them again, more vigorously, right before using them.
Testing for freshness
And what about that pile behind the hen house? If you want to know if they are fresh without opening them, which I recommend, you can check them for freshness with the float test. According to the The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, simply drop the eggs, one by one, into a bowl of water. If the egg lays flat on the bottom, it is fresh. If it stands up on end, it is a little less fresh. And if it floats, throw it as far away as possible. How does this work? The inside of the egg shell is lined with a thin membrane. As the egg ages, the membrane pulls away from the shell creating a pocket of air. The larger the pocket of air, the older the egg, and the higher the egg floats in the water.
But it looks funny
Farm fresh eggs will not look like the ones from the grocer. The yolk will be darker and firmer and it will stick to the fork when you try to scramble it. That is because your free-ranged hens have access to more nutrition (grass and bugs) than those kept in dark houses confined to a cage. Sometimes you will see a spot of blood in the egg. “That’s a hereditary characteristic in some chicken lines and doesn’t affect the edibility in the least,” said Emery. If you see a white spot that means the egg is fertile. If the shell is shaped funny, or has bumps on it, the egg inside is still good to eat. In fact, eggs with all these characteristics are perfectly good eating.
Don’t believe what you read
If you cannot raise chickens where you live, try to buy free-ranged eggs from someone who can. A healthy egg requires that the chicken has access to the outdoors all day. The chlorophyll from the grass and weeds, protein from the bugs, and vitamin D from the sun, all go into making that egg the true nutrition you seek. Eggs labeled “free-range” from the grocer guarantee none of that. The chickens on those farms may only have “access” to the outdoors for as little as a few minutes a day. And that doesn’t mean they have grass and bugs at their disposal. Also, an “organic” label only means that those chickens are fed organic feed. It does not mean that those chickens run around outside, living the healthy life that you desire. If you buy your eggs from a market farmer, ask how he houses his hens, how much time they have outside, if he has a rooster, and what type of feed he gives them.
Hens are at peak production in the summertime, so with the abundance of eggs you can enjoy omelettes, deviled eggs, and quiche to your heart’s content. And now you know if the egg is safe to eat.
Photo by TranceMist