Ok... So I watched this thing on PBS the other day about the Shaker Society of way back when and they were talking about how they were really self-sustaining communities, they had gardens, they had chickens and pigs and goats, etc. The thing that really caught my attention was a simple reminder that DUH these people did not have electricity and therefore did not have refrigerators. So what the heck did they do with their eggs???
They KEPT THEM ON THE COUNTER! Oh. My. GAWD. Now, before you go insane, lets review some basic chicken-y stuff... Chickens lay eggs for reproduction. Duh. Now, a hen has natural defenses for protecting her eggs (and I don't mean from predators, but I hear they can become real nasty bitches) from bacteria and viruses, etc. The hen places a "bloom" over the egg which dries in mere seconds (when its not 5 below outside) and this bloom has natural antibacterial properties which prevent the porous shell from absorbing bad stuff and making the baby chick inside die. Now, my hens don't have the luxury of getting laid so they do not need to go all broody on their eggs, so we eat them! That's why we have chickens!
So why do we, as Americans, refrigerate our eggs? Because the USDA and the FDA and all those government agencies who control what you put in your mouth require that eggs go through a washing process in which they are washed in chlorine and water, and some cases bleached. The removing of the bloom is what actually requires the eggs to be refrigerated because nasty bugs have a tendency to grow slower in a cold environment. Not to mention, the eggs you are buying in the store are many many days, if not WEEKS old by the time they get to you, so yeah, they definitely need refrigeration.
(Here is something pretty cool) In Europe (!) it is ILLEGAL to wash eggs before selling them due to the washing removing the natural properties of the eggs. I remembered this when I was in the UK and went to a store and found eggs ON THE SHELF. Like, next to the bread and sugar. NOT in the refrigerator.
So why in the heck don't we hear about all kinds of nasty salmonella outbreaks in Europe due to eggs? I will remain not on my soap box about how totally disgusting, dirty, and effed up our food production is and just continue. SO! Because in order for an egg to be contaminated with salmonella, it must come in contact with it. First, the egg may be contaminated from the hen directly if she is in fact, infected. If you keep a healthy flock with a clean coop and clean laying areas, then they should remain clean and healthy. Secondly, the egg may be contaminated if it comes in contact with contaminated feces or something of the sort (or in the nasty conditions battery hens are kept or the nasty conditions of the processing facilities). Again, if you keep a clean and healthy coop and flock, you should be fine.
And when you bake, don't the best chefs always tell you to allow your ingredients to come to room temp before you begin, including your eggs? There is a whole community of people out there who proclaim that a cold egg cannot be properly cooked.
So I if you have chickens, the choice is up to you really. I am going to go against convention and keep my eggs on the counter and wash them thoroughly before using (just to be sure really). We go through about a dozen in 10 or 12 days, and that is WELL within the shelf life of a fresh, homegrown egg. And if we die, then I guess I was wrong, but I don't see that happening.
So what do you do? Refrigerate or not?