If we are being honest, the reason I really like traveling is because of all of the new food. The most beautiful thing about going to a new place is that you get to experience and appreciate a way of eating that is entirely different than your own. And each time I visit a new place, I leave with a bunch of questions about how and why we eat the way we do.
And my biggest question that is still unanswered for Peru is: why the heck do they sell eggs in bags?
I’m not sure this one will ever be answered.
The markets in Peru are huge maze of vendors selling anything from coca leaves to bananas to palo santo to cheese to woven scarves. I visit my casera (preferred vendor) Olga almost daily for lettuce, cabbage carrots, onions, garlic, and of course, eggs.
As you can imagine, bringing a dozen eggs home in a plastic bag is not the safest journey for them- they often break before we even get them through the door. Heck, even Olga sometimes breaks them as she puts them in the bag.
When I asked her what she did with the broken ones, she told me she gives them to the dogs. In case you were wondering, yes there are tons of dogs roaming around at the fresh markets. I think the U.S. department of health would have an absolute field day with this, but it seems to work well in Peru: they eat the scraps.
But alas, one of the other things I noticed was that the eggs are not refrigerated. As someone who reads about food and agriculture often, I actually expected this. But I know many other people living in the U.S. may not know about this weird phenomenon. Thus I will answer the question!
Apparently, only the U.S., Canada, Australia, Scandinavians, and Japan refrigerate eggs, (any readers from these parts of the globe, please confirm this!) while the rest of the world just leaves them out on the counter or in the cupboard, or wherever.
“Wha?”, you say, “if they are not refrigerated, aren’t they going to go bad?” And to answer this question we just need to get a little bit into chicken biology.
Like most other products of nature, the chicken egg is naturally realllly good at protecting itself from outside elements, like parasites and bacteria.
All eggs are produced with a thin film or coating, which prevents them from being porous, keeping water and oxygen in and bad bacteria out.
But we neat freaks in the U.S feel the need to wash our eggs to leave the shells squeaky clean. Basically, after eggs pop out of the chicken, producers put them straight onto a complicated conveyor machine that shampoos them with soap and hot water. Egg washing has actually been a law under the USDA since 1970, for any farm looking to sell eggs.
Yet as a result, washing can damage the natural protective coating, and increases the chances for bacterial invasion through pores or hairline cracks in the shell. In the U.S., we spray eggs with oil to help prevent bacterial invaders, and then refrigerate them to keep other microorganisms at bay.
So what does this mean for you if you live in the US? Well, if you have backyard chickens and don’t wash your eggs, you can safety put them out on the counter and serve them to your family without fear. But if you want to sell them, then they have to be washed. And if you buy eggs from anyone other than a little pop-up farm stand, they will be refrigerated and it is highly recommended that you continue to do so.
And as far as refrigeration goes, due to the washing it is essential through the whole production value chain, from farm to store. If the eggs are previously refrigerated then brought out to sit at room temperature, they start to sweat, and then can get moldy- and I don’t think we want that.
Go to another country however, and don’t worry about eating the dirty, unrefrigerated eggs.
Overall, I think the way that we deal with eggs in the US is a symbol for our food system at large. A distrust of nature, unnecessary regulations, and an obsession with cleanliness that may not be so great after all. As for me? I’ll appreciate my unrefrigerated eggs in South America while I can. I like em fried the best.