Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fresh Eggs

I was listening to an interesting podcast the other day about eggs. I know, I'm an egg nerd.

The podcast was mostly about the commonly used and popular term "cage free" and the ethical treatment of chickens. The unpopular cage for chickens has now been replaced with a large open building where chickens can roam freely outside of a cage. It does not mean they have access to sunlight, fresh air, and green grass. They can still live in cramped, filthy conditions and be fed unnatural things.

I thought it was ironic that there is more concern about the treatment of the chicken than the nutrition in the egg consumed by humans. If the chicken is treated properly, the eggs will be nutritious.

Another term discussed was "farm fresh". These eggs found in the grocery store, could already be a month old by the time they reach the shelves. Not so fresh.

A typical timeline for the average supermarket egg from laying to the grocery store shelf is:
Day 1 - chicken lays egg
Day 3 - egg is collected
Day 5 - egg is washed and sorted by size and weight, refrigerated
Day 7 - eggs are sent, arrive in bulk to packing warehouse
Day 14 - eggs are put in cartons and stamped with that packing date
Day 30 - eggs in cartons are delivered to distribution centers, grocery stores, and shelves

Each carton is dated, if you know where to look and how to read the numbers. Usually on the ends of the carton, there will be a set of numbers. Three of those numbers will be the number day of the year, also known as the Julian calendar date. This is the date of packing, not the date it was laid by the chicken. Here's a chart for easy conversion: click here.

Sometimes the carton will also include a "sell by", "use by", or "good until" date. This terminology takes many forms. This date can be between 30-45 days after the packing date. And the store can keep selling the eggs for another 30 days after that date.To calculate the difference between the two days, click here.

I often get asked how long eggs will last, or are safe to eat. Well, apparently, the typical supermarket egg lasts a long time!

One easy way to tell the freshness of an egg is to put a raw egg in a glass of water. If it sinks, it should be fresh. If it floats, it's usually older. This is because there is a tiny air pocket in an egg that gradually gets bigger as the egg gets older. This is also why older eggs that are hard boiled will peel easier. But you can't really be sure if an egg is good until you crack it open. I'd recommend cracking into a small bowl before using it in cooking. Of course, if it smells rotten or is a funny color, you should never eat it. Once it's cracked, you can also tell how fresh it is by how tall the yolk "stands" above the white and how together it stays.

Fertilized eggs (eggs from those chickens who live freely with roosters) can usually be identified by small white distinct circles that looks like a target somewhere on the yolk. I usually have to get help from someone younger with better eyesight or use a magnifying glass to see it. One encounter with a rooster can provide a hen with fertilized eggs up to two weeks.

The color of the yolk is linked to what the chickens eat. My chickens that are both grassfed and supplemented with a high quality non-GMO, non-soy feed have dark yellow, sometimes orange, yolks. A typical supermarket egg will have a pale yellow yolk. Unfortunately, the big egg producers have found they can add dye to their feed to produce a yolk that looks more like a farm egg.

I write the date the egg was laid with a pencil on my eggs. I don't wash them, which would remove the natural protective "bloom". I also don't refrigerate them. This is mostly in case something should happen to our rooster and we would want to incubate and hatch more eggs. But it's also because they're actually FRESH and don't need to be refrigerated.

Packing date on this carton is 071 = March 12 (non leap year). Good for 42 days from packing.

Packing date is 336 = December 2. Good for 44 days.

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