Keep your chickens’ eggs safe to eat
By Phillip J. Clauer
Ensure egg quality in your backyard flock by properly handling the eggs that your hens produce.
These tips will help you make sure that your flock’s eggs are of the highest quality and safe for consumption.
Coop and Nest Management
- Keep the laying flock in a fenced area so they cannot hide their eggs or nest anywhere they choose. If hens are allowed to nest wherever they choose, you will not know how old eggs are or with what they have been in contact, if you can find them at all.
- Keeping the layer’s environment clean and dry will help keep your eggs clean. A muddy outside run, dirty or damp litter and dirty nesting material will result in dirty, stained eggs. Clean out the nest boxes and add deep clean litter at least every two weeks.
- Supply a minimum of four nesting boxes for flocks containing 15 hens or less. For larger flocks provide one nest for every four to five hens in the flock. This will help limit egg breakage from normal traffic and daily egg laying. Make sure nests have a deep clean layer of litter to prevent breakage and help absorb waste or broken-egg material.
Collect Eggs Early and Often
- Most flocks will lay a majority of their eggs by 10 a.m. It is best to collect the eggs as soon as possible after they are laid. The longer the egg is allowed to stay in the nest, the more likely the egg will get dirty, broken, or will lose interior quality.
- Collect eggs at least twice daily, especially during extreme weather temperatures.
Proper Egg Cleaning and Handling
- Collect eggs in an easy-to-clean container such as coated wire baskets or plastic egg flats. This will prevent stains from rusted metal and contamination from other materials, which are difficult to clean and disinfect.
- Do not stack eggs too high. If you’re collecting in baskets, do not stack eggs more than five layers deep. If you’re using plastic flats, do not stack more than six flats. Stacking eggs too deep increases breakage.
- Never cool eggs rapidly before they are cleaned. The egg shell will contract and pull any dirt or bacteria on the surface deep into the pores when cooled. Try to keep the temperature relatively constant until they are washed.
- Wash eggs as soon as you collect them. This helps limit the opportunity of contamination and loss of interior quality.
- Wash eggs with water 10 degrees warmer than the egg. This will make the egg contents swell and push the dirt away from the pores of the egg. If you have extremely dirty eggs, a mild detergent approved for washing eggs can be used.
- Never let eggs sit in water. Once the temperature equalizes, the egg can absorb contaminants out of the water.
- Cool and dry eggs quickly after washing. Store eggs, large end up, at 50-55 degrees F and at 75 percent relative humidity. If eggs sit at room temperature — about 75 degrees — they can drop as much as one grade per day. If fertile eggs are kept at a temperature above 85 degrees for more than a few hours, the embryo can start to develop.
- If eggs are stored properly in their own carton or other stable environment they should hold a quality of Grade A for at least four weeks.