Savvy grocery shoppers know the importance of inspecting one’s eggs. I never hit the checkout line without opening my carton and eyeballing each egg to see if any have cracks. For me, even the tiniest hairline crack is a dealbreaker—but why? Is it purely aesthetic, or are cracked eggs truly unsafe to eat?
Let’s begin with the USDA, shall we? A short blurb on the agency’s website reads:
“Bacteria can enter eggs through cracks in the shell. Never purchase cracked eggs. However, if eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover tightly, keep refrigerated, and use within two days. If eggs crack during hard cooking, they are safe.”
Once again: if the eggs are cracked in the store, don’t buy ’em—and definitely don’t eat ’em. If they crack in transit, you have a little more wiggle room but should still act quickly to preserve them.
But why, exactly, are cracked eggs a health hazard? To find out, I checked with my very own egg guy: Jacob Marty, the sixth-generation farmer behind Wisconsin-based Green Fire Farm. He makes regular deliveries to my neighborhood, and I rely on his farm’s beautifully speckled eggs for my semi-regular Yolk Feasts. For Marty, eating cracked store-bought eggs probably isn’t worth the risk it brings.
“I’ve eaten the slightly cracked and dirty eggs from our farm for years now instead of letting them go to waste and haven’t gotten sick once,” he says. “Having said that, I’m also exposed to the same microbes that might be an issue through my routine every day of being around chickens and collecting.”
“The egg is supposed to have a good protective coating on the outside of the shell to keep bacteria out in order for a chick to be able to develop without interference. Most (all?) store bought eggs in the US are probably washed and sanitized pretty harshly in this context, and removes that protective layer, which I would think would make it more vulnerable to contamination, especially if it’s cracked.”
He’s right: Per Forbes, commercial American eggs are “federally required to be washed and sanitized before they reach the consumer.” As Marty explains, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword; consumers receive squeaky-clean eggs, but those eggs have been stripped of their protective outer coating, which means bacteria can sneak in through even the tiniest crack.
Is it really that big of a deal? Maybe, maybe not, but I recommend erring on the side of caution—especially if you’re purchasing eggs from the grocery store and not from a local farmer. Marty says it best: “Ultimately, a single egg is a pretty minimal cost to throw away to avoid a potentially much more costly sickness.”