When you are planning which foods to store medium-term (months) or long-term (years), eggs are problematic. Dried foods like rice and pasta will store well for a long time, almost forever, if kept cool, dry, and sealed. Most frozen foods will keep indefinitely, as long as they are kept below zero degrees Fahrenheit. But eggs are one of the more difficult foods to store for longer than a few weeks. This post looks at different ways to store eggs for as long as is practical.
An old article from Mother Earth News is still one of the best sources of information on storing fresh eggs: How To Store Fresh Eggs — “We experimented with various methods of storing fresh eggs, both with no refrigeration and for a long haul in a refrigerator.” They tested two types of eggs (or “cackleberries” and “hen fruit” as they humorously call them), fertile and infertile. The “infertile” eggs were simply eggs purchased at a supermarket. The “fertile” eggs were “unwashed, non-uniform, homestead-type” eggs that still had a coating called “bloom” which is “a light layer of a natural sealing agent” that is not washed off. The test reported by the article found that unwashed eggs (non-supermarket eggs) kept better, but this only applies if you have your own chickens, or if you can buy or barter unwashed eggs from a neighbor or nearby farmer.
For supermarket eggs, the test found that the eggs kept longest in the refrigerator, in a sealed container:
“The very best way we’ve found to stash eggs away for long-term storage is in a sealed container at a temperature of 35° to 40° F. Their whites may become somewhat runny looking over a period of time, but even after seven months — the cackleberries stored in this manner smell good, taste good, have a good texture, and — in short — seem ‘almost fresh’.”
I was surprised that eggs could keep that long, even refrigerated. But I have to add that 7 months in the refrigerator is longer than I would dare to keep fresh eggs.
For supermarket eggs at room temperature (no refrigeration!!) the eggs kept for up to 5 months using the waterglass method: “covering eggs with a solution of one part waterglass (sodium silicate) mixed with nine parts of boiled and cooled water.” Again, this is longer than I consider practical.
However a problem arose with all the non-refrigerated methods of storage. Eggs that are not refrigerated can grow bacteria, especially if the eggs have even a hairline crack: “As good as some eggs kept in waterglass were, almost every batch we opened seemed to contain one real stinker.” The smell indicates bacteria — discard any eggs that smell bad, no matter how they were stored.
In a pinch, eggs will keep without refrigeration for longer than you might think. Even without waterglass, the eggs will be fine if you lose power and refrigeration for days or even a few weeks. So you can keep whole raw intact (not cracked at all!) eggs in the refrigerator for months at a time, and not worry about losing power and refrigeration. The eggs can be returned to refrigeration when the power resumes. However, when ready to use, don’t add eggs that have been stored for longer than a couple of weeks directly into a recipe. You should crack each egg in a small bowl and inspect it. Any bad smell means bacteria grew, and the egg is not safe to use.
You should not freeze whole raw eggs. The eggs may grow salmonella or other bacteria when you thaw them. By the way, the FDA requires all cartons of whole raw eggs, ones that have not been treated to destroy Salmonella, to carry a safe handling statement.
“Safe Handling Instructions
“To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly. Eggs that have been treated to destroy Salmonella — by in-shell pasteurization, for example — are not required to carry safe handling instructions.” (FDA)
Hard-boiled eggs are essentially pasteurized by the boiling process. However, the egg whites will not remain palatable, if frozen. They will become tough and will leak water. You can freeze the hard-boiled yolks though: How to Freeze Hard-Boiled Eggs.
Another approach is to freeze the liquid raw egg. The easiest way is to buy fresh liquid egg whites (or a flavored brand of egg whites like “Egg Beaters”) and freeze the carton. The egg whites will keep for up to a year as long as they are kept frozen. You can also take whole fresh eggs, crack them into a bowl, beat the yolks and whites together, and freeze the liquid for up to one year. If you just want to freeze the egg whites, check out this trick for separating the whites from the yolks.
Important: when thawing any type of egg products, don’t thaw at room temperature, use the refrigerator. This prevents salmonella or other nasty bacteria from growing as the egg is thawing.
Refrigerating Hardboiled Eggs
The whites of hardboiled eggs tend to turn green while in the refrigerator. This is caused by iron from the yolks slowly migrating into the whites and combining with sulfur to form green iron sulphide. Don’t over-cook the eggs, and remember to put the eggs into ice water immediately after cooking. This will minimize the green effect.
Another approach that I use is to take the cooked and cooled hardboiled egg, and immediately remove the shell. Then slice the egg in half and refrigerate in a sealed container. The iron does not migrate into the egg whites, and so the whites never turn green. (Maybe the iron combines preferentially with the oxygen in the air; I’m not sure why it works.)
Powdered egg whites can be purchased in most supermarkets. They are expensive, but they are also pasteurized and shelf-stable. Powdered egg whites will keep without refrigeration for as long as 3 years after purchase — but check the package expiration date before purchasing. Also, be sure to keep the powdered egg whites relatively cool, below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, dry, and well-sealed.
Mix the egg white powder with water and you have an food suitable for baking. Are dried egg whites good for making omelets or scrambled eggs? — not so much. You could use them, but they are not tasty.
Dried egg whites are an excellent source of protein. Dried egg whites are 81% protein, and high in lysine and all essential amino acids.
Finally, here is a useful article on What “cage-free,” “fertile” and other egg labels mean. And take a look at this FDA article on egg food safety: Shell Eggs from Farm to Table.