Americans in a grocery store in the UK will naturally look for eggs in the refrigerated section near milk.
They are stunned to discover that eggs are kept on regular store shelves in the baking goods section near flour.
However, Salmonella outbreaks are rare in UK eggs.
Unrefrigerated eggs can last for three weeks in the UK and Europe, but in America and some other countries, they only last for a few hours at room temperature.
How Long Can Eggs Be Unrefrigerated Before Being Unsafe to Eat?
The length of time unrefrigerated eggs can last depends on what country the eggs are from. In America and Japan, unrefrigerated eggs only last a few hours. In the UK and most of Europe, eggs can last for about three weeks since the hens have been vaccinated for Salmonella.
Why Eggs Need to Be Refrigerated in Some Countries
Countries that need to have eggs constantly refrigerated include America, Japan, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Many Australian supermarkets sell eggs on unrefrigerated shelves, but it’s common for shoppers to place them in the refrigerator to make them last longer.
These countries make eggs differently than countries that do not need to refrigerate their eggs. Their hens are all vaccinated for Salmonella. This practice started in 1997.
Also, any hen diagnosed with Salmonella is immediately slaughtered. Egg safety inspections tend to be stricter in the UK and Europe than in America.
In contrast, in countries where eggs need to be refrigerated wash the eggs to make them free from contaminants, like hen poop, that could cause Salmonella.
Unfortunately, washing eggs makes the shells weaker and less resistant to bacteria. Refrigeration greatly slows down bacterial growth.
Despite egg washing and refrigeration and some egg producers voluntarily vaccinating their hens,
Salmonella outbreaks happen far more frequently in America than in the UK. About 140,000 people get Salmonella from bad eggs in America every year.
In contrast, about 100 people got sick from bad eggs in the UK during the years 2016- 2019, or about 33 people a year.
How Long Refrigerated Eggs Last in the Arctic
Under the right cold conditions, eggs can last a surprisingly long time. Humans aren’t the only animals that like to refrigerate eggs. Another animal that does so is the Arctic fox.
They steal and bury goose eggs during the brief Arctic summer.
According to National Geographic, goose eggs can last up to one year when buried in the Arctic permafrost. These eggs help Artic foxes survive the winter when they can’t find enough live food like lemmings.
How to Tell a Good Egg from a Bad Egg
It would be great if all kitchens had that machine from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) that instantly told you if your egg was good or bad.
Fortunately, there are other ways to tell good eggs from bad.
Do not eat eggs that:
- Have a slimy appearance
- Seems to have powder on the shell
- Are cracked
- Are discolored or have discolored yolks other than a blood-red spot
- Are lighter than usual
- Seems to have gone thin
- Smell bad enough to literally make you choke when you crack them open.
Although there are many people that advocate placing eggs in water to see if they float, those floating eggs are still good for some kinds of cooking, such as boiling.
They’re just not fresh enough to be fried, poached, or used for baking. This is because older eggs will be runnier than fresh eggs.
Why Food Lasts Longer Than the Sell-By Date
To reiterate, eggs can last up to five weeks past their sell-by date, as long as they are refrigerated.
A writer for the New York Times reported that his/her eggs lasted for “several weeks” longer than the sell-by date, but was not more specific.
Sell-by dates are notorious for being unreliable, except for milk and baby formula.
There are no laws about what food manufacturers like egg packers need to follow when determining dates. The only exception to this is for baby formula.
For all other foods, even putting on a sell-by date is voluntary.
In order to protect themselves, the stores that sell them and to make sure you buy more eggs should your eggs be past the sell-by date, the dates are made to be weeks earlier than when food actually goes bad.
Although you should always toss food that seems suspicious, if you ate eggs and discovered that they were a few weeks past the sell-by date, you should be okay.
Symptoms of Salmonella
In America and other countries where eggs are washed and refrigerated, eggs go off in as little as two hours in room temperature.
They can go off quicker in very hot weather.
They also can quickly go off in dishes that use eggs as a main ingredient, such as egg salad or anything with mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce.
Salmonella is a miserable experience. Symptoms include:
- Stomach cramps
- Passing blood in your poop.
Salmonella can be deadly, especially for the elderly, for small children, or for someone suffering from a serious illness like cancer.
Call a doctor or go to the hospital if symptoms do not go away in a few days, if the fever is high, or if dehydration is so bad that your skin tents.
This is when you pinch your skin, pull, let go and the skin stays up in place for a while instead of immediately snapping back in place.
Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Can Eggs Be Unrefrigerated Before Being Unsafe to Eat
How Long Do Refrigerated Eggs Last?
As long as the refrigeration is mostly constant, and the eggs have not been left out for days at a time, refrigerated eggs can last as long as five weeks. It is possible for eggs to last longer, but they should be checked before using, and thrown out if they stink when cracked.
How Long Do Eggs Last in the Fridge After Their Sell-By Date?
They can last up to five weeks after the sell-by date, as long as the refrigeration has been constant. However, they may not taste as good as fresher eggs. They should still be good for boiling or making scrambled eggs.
Can You Freeze Eggs?
Eggs should not be stored in the freezer while still in the shell. Freeze them by cracking them open and placing them in a container good for freezers. They can last as long as the freezer lasts, but their quality goes down after one year.
In America, unrefrigerated eggs can go bad in as little as two hours.
In the UK and most European countries, eggs can stay at room temperature for about three weeks.
Always check eggs before using them. Never use eggs that smell horrible when you crack them open.
Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)
Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking. I have been cooking for the past 20 years and am happy to share my best recipes and cooking-related knowledge with you.