Now that your pristine hens are laying their eggs tidily in neat nest boxes, and you’ve skipped around the hen house three times a day to gather your eggs…you’ll still have dirty eggs. How does one approach cleaning fragile, porous egg shells? It is not difficult, but there are some very important points to remember to ensure your food safety.
The Basic Rules
Cracked or extremely dirty eggs should be discarded right away. Do not bother trying to clean them, and do not gather them up and store them with other eggs.
Dry cleaning is easiest. If your eggs are basically clean, you may just brush dirt off of them with an egg brush or sanding sponge. The less wet washing you can get away with, the better.
Do not soak eggs. Especially avoid letting the eggs soak in water. Egg shells have a natural covering that will prevent microbes from entering the egg. Water weakens that protection, and letting your eggs sit in wash water may add more harmful bugs than you wash away. If water is necessary to clean the eggs, keep it constantly moving. Dip, spray or pour water as you clean the eggs.
Keep wash water hotter than eggs. Your wash water should be somewhat warmer than your eggs. If the water cools down the eggs, the egg contents will shrink, forming a vacuum that will suck the dirty water and bacteria through the pores of the eggshell. Do you remember your gradeschool science classes? Of course, if your water is too much hotter than the egg, you may crack or even cook the egg. So you’ll want to find a Goldilocks temperature–just right. Generally, this will be a temperature close to 100° F.
Use proper detergents and sanitizers. Egg detergents are available to aid in cleaning eggs and killing harmful bugs. You will need to make certain that whatever type of detergent you use is food safe. If you are raising your chickens under an organic certification, you will need to determine whether your detergent is considered acceptable for the organic label. You should also take care that your detergent will not harm your particular septic or waste removal system. If you are considering a detergent that is not specifically formulated for egg washing, it must be an unscented one! Fragrances in detergents will be absorbed into the egg and alter the flavor.
Eggs should be rinsed after cleaning. Again, the temperature of the rinse water should be slightly higher than the wash water was. You may also choose to sanitize the eggs with a chlorine solution ranging from 50-200ppm. Purchase chlorine test strips at restaurant supply stores to show the level of chlorine in your solution. If you are selling organic eggs, you will need to check the regulations for acceptable sanitizing solutions.
How To’s: Cleaning Methods
Washing eggs under a running hot water tap is the easiest handwashing method for small amounts of eggs. If you have quite a few to clean at once, you may need to set up either a dip washing station or use a spray method.
Dip Washing. A dip washing station simply consists of separate basins of wash water, rinse water and sanitizer (if used). Using an egg basket or colander, dip the eggs into the basin and wash each egg individually. But do not let them soak!
Big Important Rule with Dip Washing: It is extremely important to change your wash and rinse water every 3 to 4 dozen eggs. Do not fall into the temptation to do ‘just one more’. Keep your water clean!
Finally, dip the colanders into the rinse water and sanitizer basins. Spray Washing. Another common method for cleaning eggs is to pour or spray them with wash water. This removes the temptation to stretch your wash water by preventing the opportunity to re-use dirty water at all. Mix your detergent and/or sanitizer with your wash water in a watering can or hand-pump sprayer (Like the ones they sell to spray weed killer. Only, y’know, not one that actually was used with weed killer. That would be bad). Spray down the eggs, then take a paper towel to wipe each one clean.
Big Important Rule with Spray Washing: Always use paper towels because they need to be disposed of as soon as they start to get dirty. You won’t know quickly enough when a cloth towel is too dirty to use, and will continue to use it long after it is no longer sanitary. Once a paper towel has touched an egg, do not dip it into your wash water solution. You may dip a new paper towel into the solution to help wipe eggs clean, or you may have to re-spray particularly stubborn dirty eggs.
Place the cleaned eggs in a separate, clean container. Spray them down with a rinse and sanitizing solution.
Of course, if you have a great many eggs, there are always automatic egg washing machines!
Dry your eggs and Refrigerate.
If you do not let your eggs completely dry before packing them, they will stick to the carton. They will also be at greater risk for spoiling. You may either leave them to evaporate dry in a plastic tray or basket, place them near a fan, or wipe them dry. Remember to keep those eggs refrigerated. They will have lost most of their natural protection now that they’ve been washed (remember the bloom from last post?).
Pack up your eggs in cartons and now its all over bar the boiling (frying, poaching, backing…whatever works). Phew! Enjoy those pure, clean eggs.
Please check out the How to Wash Eggs Part I post for sources, including government regulation sites, permitted materials for Organic-labeled eggs, and in-depth articles on cleaning eggs and general processing.
An additional resource: USDA Bird Biosecurity