Why don’t Germans Refrigerate their Eggs?

After writing about German tea in my last post, my mind has been on food in Germany and how different it can be than food in the USA. Like the eggs I have stored in my pantry. That’s right, my unrefrigerated pantry.

Behold! German eggs Photo: Erin Porter

I’ve talked about grocery shopping in Germany and how it can be a harrowing experience. It almost sent me packing my first few months in Berlin. Customer service is non-existent, check-out is an athletic event and goods are displayed in the least attractive manner. On my first grocery trip, I must have spent 30 minutes scouring the store looking for eggs before finding cartons piled high in a nondescript cardboard box on the floor. Milk was in boxes – also unrefrigerated – nearby (I’ll have to get into that another time). I was flummoxed. What was going on?!

Let me tell you all about the eggs in Germany my friends, and why they are aren’t refrigerated.

Why don’t Germans Refrigerate their Eggs?

The answer to this question is a bit long, but not very complicated. One of the first things you should know is that eggs that are approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be illegal if sold in the European Union or UK, and vice versa. Why is that? It all starts with a wash….

In the U.S.A., the law states that all eggs must be washed with water at least 20°F warmer than the internal temperature of the eggs (a minimum of 90°F) and a non-scented detergent. They are then sprayed with a chemical sanitizer to remove bacteria and completely dried as any moisture left on the egg can grow bacteria.

All this makes the eggs perdy and safe for consumers. Look at that clean shell! However, that processing also removes a natural protective coating that prevents pathogens from entering through the porous shell. (Eggs are pretty cool, right?)

So how do they process eggs in Europe? EU egg marketing laws require Class A eggs (which are all eggs found in supermarkets) not to be washed or cleaned. This retains the eggs’ natural protection, lowers cost and encourages the European egg farmers to maintain a clean laying area for the hens.

However, anyone buying eggs in Germany will quickly realize this ideal is not always realized. I’ve bought eggs with a few feathers and a smattering of chicken poop more than a few times. I kinda like this. It reminds me of home, in the wilds of Washington State, where my parents still raise chickens and we eat fresh eggs on the regular. The downside is the chance of getting chicken poop on your hands (or having dangerous micro-organisms making their way through the porous shell) and cross-contaminating your food. That’s not just gross, that is a potential hazard to your health. The Center for Disease Control estimates that salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses a year.

But how does this relate to eggs and refrigeration?

With that protective layer washed away and the eggs heated by the washing, the eggs must stay chilled until they are consumed. If eggs are allowed to reach room temperature it can cause condensation and encourage mildew.

So – washing is the answer to why don’t Germans refrigerate their eggs. Other considerations include the fact that room-temperature eggs are better for cooking.  On the other hand, refrigerated egg have a longer shelf life, regularly lasting four weeks while unrefrigerated eggs are usually only good for a week or two.

So let’s break it down into the major pros and cons of German eggs.

Pros:

  • Egg maintains natural protective coating
  • Less chemicals
  • Lower cost associated with treating the eggs
  • Incentive for farmer’s to maintain a clean coop
  • Room-temperature eggs are better for cooking

Cons:

  • Chance of cross-contamination
  • Shorter shelf life

And Europe’s not alone. Asia and many other parts of world also store their eggs at room temperature. Maybe Americans are the weird ones.

The carton holds the answers Photo: Erin Porter

German Egg Cartons Hold All the Answers

Trying to learn more about these German eggs I have been eating without really thinking about, I opened the egg carton and discovered a wealth of information.

On the right, there is an assurance about the quality of life the chickens have led. I’m told they were free to roam in their cage, ate well and were able to nest in peace. These aren’t even some fancy Bio (organic) eggs! Just the standard Netto fare.

On the left, the numbers stamped on the individual eggs are decoded. You can find out what country the egg comes from, what condition the chicken was kept in and where exactly that egg came from. For example, z.B.2 – DE – 1234567 means the chicken was kept:

  • 2 – Bodenhaltung (free range on the floor)
  • DE – Raised in Germany
  • 1234567 – Identifies which farm and which stall that egg came from. They know exactly which chicken laid that egg!

Above that number is the expiration date. That’s so cool! Everything you never cared to know printed on the shell of an egg. (Although it does make dying eggs for Easter a little more complicated. The pastel effect is ruined when a stamp shows through.) For more information, you can consult the cleverly named www.was-steht-auf-dem-ei.de.

I learned a lot about the wonderful world of German eggs writing this post and came away pretty impressed. Who knew the perfection of German eggs?