February 14, 2024

How Long Can Eggs Sit Out?

Despite their nutritional value and versatility in cooking, eggs can pose a serious risk of foodborne illness if not handled and stored correctly. Often, when poor safety practices lead to illness, egg distributors may be held liable in a lawsuit. One common question regarding eggs is how long they can sit out unrefrigerated before becoming unsafe to eat.

So, how long can eggs sit out? As a general guideline, eggs should not sit out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. This includes both raw eggs and cooked eggs. After two hours, bacteria can grow on the egg’s surface, increasing the risk of food poisoning. Even with proper storage practices, all eggs eventually become unsafe to eat.

eggs in carton
  • Eggs should not be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours due to the risk of bacterial growth.
  • Refrigerating eggs slows down bacterial growth and is necessary in the U.S. because washing removes their natural protective coating.
  • Salmonella, a leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., can contaminate eggs and cause severe symptoms.
  • Signs of bad eggs include cracks, sliminess, discoloration, and unpleasant odors, but not all spoiled eggs show visible signs.
  • Eggs are generally safe to consume for three to five weeks when stored properly in the refrigerator.

Why Should Eggs Be Refrigerated?

If you’ve ever traveled internationally, you might have noticed that many grocery stores in other countries do not refrigerate their eggs. The primary reason is that most other countries do not wash their eggs before selling them like the U.S. does. Eggs naturally have a protective coating that helps prevent bacteria from entering through their porous shells. Washing eggs removes this protective coating, which makes them more susceptible to contamination from harmful bacteria like salmonella, which is why grocery stores in the U.S. refrigerate their eggs.

Refrigerating eggs helps slow down bacterial growth and keep them safe for consumption after removing the protective coating. Bacteria grow most quickly between 40°F and 140°F, also known as the food safety “danger zone.” Bacteria can double in number every 20 minutes within this temperature range. Therefore, any bacteria present in eggs are more likely to cause foodborne illness the longer the egg is left unrefrigerated. 

Cool eggs are also prone to “sweating” when brought to room temperature after refrigeration. The moisture creates the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply. 

Salmonella in Eggs

Salmonella is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., and eggs are one of the most common food sources of this bacteria. Salmonella bacteria are often spread through the fecal matter of infected animals. Salmonella can contaminate eggs through contact with the chicken’s reproductive organs or from touching bird droppings after they are laid.

Symptoms of salmonella infection include:

Young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for severe illness from salmonella. A severe case can result in dehydration and dangerously high fever. Less commonly, salmonella may cause a potentially life-threatening typhoid fever. 

Most effects of salmonella infections clear up within a few days, but long-term effects are possible even if the case was initially mild. The frequency and consistency of bowel movements may be abnormal for a few months in some people. Additionally, some people develop joint pain after a salmonella infection. Known as reactive arthritis, this condition can last for months or years. It can also cause eye irritation and pain when urinating. 

Remember, if you contracted salmonella from eating bad eggs, you may be eligible to file a salmonella lawsuit. Keep Food Safe can help you secure high-quality legal representation. 

How To Tell If Eggs Have Gone Bad

A simple inspection of eggs can provide helpful insight into their freshness. Eggs with any of the following characteristics may have gone bad: 

Keep in mind that eggs may not always show visual signs of spoilage. This is especially true for eggs left out of the refrigerator for more than the recommended time.

How To Store Eggs

Your refrigerator is the best place to store eggs. The ideal temperature for storing eggs is 40°F or slightly below. After purchase, keep them in their original carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Avoid storing your eggs on the refrigerator door as the temperature there fluctuates more.

Eggs stored according to these guidelines are generally safe to eat for three to five weeks. If printed on the carton, you can rely on the expiration date. However, the federal government does not require egg producers to print an expiration or sell-by date on egg cartons. 

Additionally, the sell-by date isn’t always the best indicator of freshness since producers may choose an expiration date up to 30 days after packing the eggs. Depending on the circumstances, this may be too long. 

How Long Can Fresh Eggs, Hard-Boiled Eggs, and Scrambled Eggs Sit Out?

Commercially sold eggs in the U.S. are normally safe to consume for up to two hours when kept at room temperature or one hour at temperatures above 90°F. This applies to both fresh and cooked ones, such as hard-boiled and scrambled eggs. It’s best to err on the side of caution and dispose of any eggs left out for longer than recommended. 

Follow these guidelines even if the eggs appear safe to eat. Because bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses do not always change the appearance, smell, or taste of eggs for the first few hours, a quick inspection may not be enough to keep you safe.

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