Food Safety Issues/egg safety


QUESTION: hi, found some hidden eggs by hens in the guarden.  Is it safe to consume them?
The eggs might be between 5 months or a couple of weeks old.
Any suggestions how to check if they are still sterile or edible?
What are the health risks involved?

Thanks in advance.


This is a good question since egg handling in the US and Europe differ considerably.  In the US, eggs are refrigerated within 36 hours of layment and are also washed to remove any outside dirt and contamination.  This process is not followed in Europe and many other countries and it is quite common to find eggs not refrigerated when purchased at the grocery store.

In the US, eggs are refrigerated and washed to keep down the possible growth of Salmonella, a bacteria that has been associated with poultry and eggs. Amazingly, in Europe where eggs are not refrigerated, the rate of salmonella outbreaks associated with eggs is less than the US so I think the difference is the way chickens are grown and handled in the US as compared to the rest of the world.  

The way to tell if your eggs are sterile/fertile is to "candle" them.  In other words, hold a light next to them to reveal the contents of the egg.  See for pictures on how to candle an egg.

As far as determining if they are still edible, I would crack a couple to exam the inside contents. If they appear and smell fresh then I would consider them safe to consume.  You can also do a water test on the uncracked eggs to determine freshness. Place an egg in a bowl of water. If the egg lies on its side at the bottom, it is very fresh.If the egg lays upright on the bottom, it is still fine to eat, but should be eaten very soon, or hard boiled.
If the egg floats to the top, do not eat and discard.

As far as health risks, eggs have been associated with Salmonella so there is a possibility that your eggs could be harboring this dangerous bacteria.  You can't tell by sight or smell if Salmonella is present so it is a gamble that you will take if you decide to consume them. But since the rate of Salmonella infestation in eggs is much lower in Europe, the chances that your eggs having Salmonella are very low.

I would definitely not serve these eggs uncooked or use them in dishes that are not thoroughly cooked.  In addition, I would not serve them to young children, pregnant women, or the immune impared as their immune system may not be be robust enough to handle Salmonella, if consumed.

Good luck.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Carol,
Thank you for your thorough and useful reply.  
Just one follow-up:  You mentioned
>As far as health risks, eggs have been associated with Salmonella so there is a possibility that your eggs could be harboring this dangerous bacteria.

Do you perhaps mean contamination due to cracks in the eggshell?  If the eggshell is intake, unless the hens are sick, one would think there is very little chance of the contents carrying salmonella?  Does this make sense?
Thanks again for your help.

Kind regards,

Hi Again,

Salmonella can be present within the hen which can directly transfer it to the egg before the shell is formed. So it is not necessarily a contamination problem due to cracked eggs, though that is another way contaminates like Salmonella can enter an egg.

Chickens with salmonella will be weak, lethargic, have purplish combs and wattles, a decreased appetite and increased thirst. Plus you will see distinct white, sulfur yellow or green diarrhea. In some cases, joints might be swollen and blindness might occur from swelling in the eyes.

If the chickens show no signs of illness then there is a very low probability that Salmonella would be present with your garden eggs.


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Carol Schlitt


I can answer questions on home food safety, sanitation and home food preservation.


I am a former Extension educator, nutrition, wellness and food safety, having retired August 1, 2010. I am a food safety instructor for the Illinois Department of Public Health, a ServSafe Instructor/Proctor and have my own company, Safe & Savory Solutions, Inc -

National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (Past President and current Historian), St. Louis Culinary Society.

BS - University of Illinois MS - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

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