By Laura Kohler
Open any carton of eggs in Germany and you’ll find yourself faced with the reality of where eggs come from: chicken butts. Often dotted with feathers or droppings, the eggs are a far cry from their glistening white counterparts that fill American supermarket coolers. But there’s a good reason for this! Eggs in America are federally required to be washed and sanitized before they are put out for sale in supermarkets. Eggs in the EU are, in contrast, required to be unwashed. Each country has different reasoning for the regulations, but it comes down to which practice is considered safer: washing the eggs to remove any trace of contaminants, then keeping them refrigerated to help impede bacterial growth; or encouraging farmers to produce cleaner eggs, vaccinate hens against salmonella, and leaving the cuticle (the protective layer around the egg) intact, allowing the eggs to be stored at room temperature. That’s also the reason that you find eggs in coolers in the US, but at room temperature in the EU.
You don’t need to refrigerate eggs in Germany. If you do refrigerate them, make sure not to let them sit out before use, as they can sweat, causing bacterial growth on the outside of the egg to be drawn in through the shell. Similarly, you should never wash eggs before using them, as this can cause contaminants on the outside of the egg to migrate through the porous shell into the inside.
When purchasing eggs, look for a sticker on the egg carton that notes the use-by date, as eggs can be kept safely at room temperature for 21 days after being laid. Refrigerated eggs can be kept for two to four weeks after the use-by date. There is one wonderful upside to the German method: eggnog or cookie dough is safer to eat! German hens used for commercial egg-laying are required to be vaccinated against salmonella, making them safer to eat raw. Just be careful not to allow any eggshell into the mix, as this is where any potential contaminants would be. Of course, expecting moms may still want to avoid raw eggs.
But Germans also add something to the outside of an egg: a code is printed on the egg, indicating the manner in which the hens are kept, the country the eggs were laid, and the seven digit code assigned to the particular farm. The first digit indicates the type of facility: organic, free-range, cage-free, or battery hens (batteries have been outlawed in Germany since 2010). A new practice of keeping hens in small groups has been on the rise recently as it seems to offer a good balance of healthy hens and high egg production, and are also subject to stricter requirements (“Kleingruppenhaltung”). Certain increasing requirements must be met to receive each certification, with organic eggs having the strictest requirements. Organic egg farms in Germany must meet Germany’s strict restrictions on organic foods, but often also offer additional initiatives, such as ensuring that male chicks are raised to adulthood, or that hens are treated with natural medicine. Of course, such initiatives are often also funded by an increase in cost per egg.
Local farms are often a wonderful source of fresh eggs. Often you don’t even have to make the trip out there! Our local Rewe offers eggs from the local free-range farm at prices that are comparable to their house brand. And really, you should always be buying at least free range eggs (“Freilandhaltung”), because happy hens make tastier eggs!
For more information on how eggs are raised in Germany (in German):