Everyone has had that really frustrating moment when they’ve found a cracked egg in a carton they’ve just brought back from the store. Whether it broke in your bag or it was broken before you purchased it and you didn’t notice, this is annoying, and it may leave you wondering whether cracked eggs are safe to eat.
Are cracked eggs safe to eat? A cracked egg isn’t safe to eat if it has been cracked for some time. If you think the egg was broken in the store, you should not eat it. However, if you have accidentally cracked an egg while heading home or while putting away your groceries, you can safely break the egg into a clean container and place it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
Why Do Cracked Eggs Become Unsafe to Eat?
The shell of an egg is very effective at preventing bacteria from entering the egg. Salmonella and other diseases may be residing on the surface of the egg, but until the shell is broken, they can rarely get in. Since we don’t eat the egg shells, surface bacteria doesn’t usually matter, until the egg is broken.
Even once the egg is broken, it takes time for the bacteria to transfer into the egg. However, given time, the egg will almost certainly be compromised by something unpleasant, particularly if the membrane inside the shell has also broken, as this forms a second protective layer.
If the membrane is not broken, the egg will last longer, but it should still be treated with caution and not consumed if you don’t know when the crack in the shell appeared.
Old eggs are at greater risk of having bacteria on the shells, as any specks will have had time to multiply. This increases the chances of the bacteria spreading to the egg when the shell is broken, and if that occurs, it isn’t safe to consume.
So how do you know if the egg was cracked in the store or on the way home? Assuming that you forgot to check the eggs in the store (which you should make a habit of doing to prevent this issue), you simply don’t know, and the egg should be discarded.
Remember, a cracked egg isn’t the same as a bad egg. Bacteria won’t make the egg smell bad, so you can’t tell if it’s unsafe to eat, and you could give yourself food poisoning if you consume it. Unless you know that the egg has only just been cracked, you should throw it away.
Why Are Freshly Cracked Eggs Safe to Eat?
That might leave you wondering why a freshly cracked egg isn’t in much danger of harboring salmonella. The simple answer is that the bacteria haven’t had time to get into the egg and multiply there yet, so the risk is still very low. That risk increases the longer the egg remains broken but uncooked and uneaten for.
If you keep your own chickens and accidentally crack an egg that has chicken poop on it, you may wish to discard the egg, even if you have only just cracked it. You can assess the proximity of the poop and the crack, but the presence of feces makes the egg less sanitary, and it may not be safe to eat anymore.
You might be wondering how long an egg can be cracked for before it becomes unsafe, but this isn’t really a question anyone can answer. From the moment the crack occurs, the safety of the egg decreases, and at what point it is deemed unsafe is a matter of judgment.
Equally, the size of a crack makes a difference. A hairline crack poses less danger than a large crack or multiple cracks. You will have to make a decision based on your own feelings about the situation.
Some people would discard any cracked egg, while most will eat an egg they know has only cracked in the last hour or so.
What Should You Do If You Crack An Egg By Mistake?
If your first thought is to close the carton and pretend it didn’t happen, that’s not a good idea. Instead, enlarge the crack (if necessary) so that you can cleanly split the shell open and tip the contents of the egg into a sterile container. A small cup will do nicely.
Discard the shell in your compost bin, and then cover the container. You may wish to use a saucer or some clingfilm, but minimize the airflow to keep the egg fresh for as long as possible. Place it in the fridge.
You should then use the egg up swiftly. Aim to use it within two days of breaking, or you again have an increased risk of bacteria forming in the egg.
Note: Eggs can also crack when frozen from being left towards the top of the refrigerator.
What about if the egg shell cracks when you’re boiling an egg? In this case, you’re fine to eat the egg – don’t worry about it. Any bacteria on the shell won’t have a chance to get into and breed inside the egg, so you don’t increase the risk of salmonella by eating them.
Is There Still Salmonella Risk with a Cracked Egg?
Salmonella is commonly associated with eggs and while it is relatively rare to contract it from consuming eggs that have been handled properly, you should be aware of this risk. It is important to keep eggs in the fridge when you have purchased them; this is the USDA’s recommendation for reducing the bacterial spread.
You should also make sure that eggs are fully cooked, and not eat eggs that are still runny. Although many people enjoy runny yolks, this does somewhat increase your risk of contracting salmonella, although the whites are more likely to be infected as they envelop the yolk and it will take time for bacteria to spread through.
As long as you have just broken an egg, it is fine to tip it into a clean container for later use, or consume it straight away. However, if you don’t know when an egg got cracked and it may have been cracked for some time, you should discard the egg. It can be safely composted to prevent the risk of food poisoning.