Egg Handling and Cleaning

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week
  Return to the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian website

Bacteria can be found in many places in a chicken coop: in the dirt, litter, nest boxes, or manure. Egg shells may seem solid, but they have microscopic openings called “pores” to allow gases and moisture to move through. Bacteria can also enter the egg through these pores and create a food safety hazard.

Proper handling of eggs is crucial to keep these pores clean. Egg shells can become dirty from fecal matter (droppings), broken eggs, shavings, and feathers. Bacteria on the eggshell can contaminate hands, cooking surfaces and food. The use of proper egg handling and washing techniques can reduce the risk of unwanted bacteria, and it promotes food safety.

Keeping Nests Clean

  • To minimize dirty eggs, keep your coop very clean and train your birds to use nest boxes.
  • You should have one nest for every three-to-four hens.
  • Keep your nest boxes clean by removing any soiled bedding daily and replacing it as needed.

Collecting Eggs

Consider using egg baskets, generally made of plastic coated wire, instead of buckets for collecting eggs. Eggs in baskets can be placed directly in to wash water, removed for rinsing, and set aside so the eggs can dry.
  • Wash your hands before and after collecting eggs.
  • To reduce the risk of damage or bacteria, collect your eggs at least twice each day.
  • The first collection time should be within 5 hours of daylight, which is when the majority of eggs are laid.
  • When you collect your eggs, take two different egg baskets into your coop. Use one basket for clean eggs (ones without any visible debris) and another for dirty eggs.
  • Fill baskets only about halfway so you can effectively agitate and clean the eggs.
  • Keeping your eggs separate will help you prevent clean eggs from being contaminated by dirty ones.

Washing Eggs

Soon after collecting your eggs, take them to a sink in a separate location. Because you will be dealing with fecal matter, use a sink away from food preparation areas.
  • It is important to wash visibly dirty eggs, but even eggs that look clean may have bacteria on them.
  • Wash your two baskets of eggs separately, starting with the clean-looking ones.
  • Immerse the eggs in hot water (see temperature details below) containing egg-wash powder, also known as egg-wash detergent, and gently rub them clean.
  • Leave the eggs in the water only long enough to clean them (just a few minutes).
  • Rinse the eggs under hot running water, and
  • Allow them to air dry before storing them.
  • Clean the sink and work area after each use using hot water and soap.
  • Once dry, store washed eggs in the fridge.
The temperature of the water is critical, so use a thermometer and keep your water at least at 41°C (106°F). Hot water causes the egg contents to expand slightly and increase the pressure in the egg, which prevents the water (and the bacteria) from entering. When you wash eggs in cold water, the egg contents shrink, sucking in the water and possible contaminants. To prevent this, the wash and rinse water must be at least 11°C (20°F) warmer than the egg. Remember, it is safer to not wash eggs than to wash them improperly.

For the dirty eggs, first use an egg brush, sanding sponge, or sandpaper to gently remove the visible dirt and debris. Discard excessively dirty eggs and those with dirt spots larger than a quarter, as they have high potential for bacterial contamination. Ensure that your wash water is still clean and at least 41°C (106°F), then wash the eggs as explained above.

Avoid using other cleaners (like dish soap), as they do not clean eggs properly. Egg-wash powder contains sanitizers safe for use on eggs that will be eaten and on hatching eggs. It also continues to work even after the eggs have been removed from the solution. This long-lasting clean provides the greatest degree of food safety.
Egg-wash powder and egg baskets can be purchased through United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), Peavey Mart, hatcheries, and most agriculture supply stores.

Cleaning Hatching Eggs

If you are incubating and hatching your eggs rather than eating them, the general principles of keeping nests clean and collecting eggs are the same. However, egg washing and storage tips are different.
  • You don’t need to wash visibly clean hatching eggs.
  • Very dirty eggs should be discarded; contamination of the interior of the egg may lead to chick embryo death, which creates a biosecurity risk in your incubator and hatcher.
  • For slightly dirty eggs (or under veterinary recommendation in certain disease situations), hatching eggs can be washed as explained above with a couple important changes:
  • Avoid excessively hot wash and rinse water (keep it close to 41°C/106°F), and
  • Only immerse eggs for less than 3 minutes.
  • Once dry, hatching eggs can be stored at room temperature 21°C (70°F) for up to four days.
  • Longer storage times will require lower temperatures and higher relative humidity. Eggs stored up to 10 days prior to incubation are ideally kept between 16°C and 18°C and between 50% and 80% relative humidity.
Modified from "Raising Chickens in Alberta - a guide for small flock owners"
Share via
For more information about the content of this document, contact Ana Ulmer-Franco.
This information published to the web on July 12, 2017.