Putting Broken Eggshells Back in the Carton: Great or Gross?

Categories: Leftovers

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I encountered a confusing phenomenon recently, and I need your help to sort it out: broken eggshells left in the carton, then put back into the refrigerator alongside the still-intact eggs.

My buddy who does this -- whose egg carton I found filled with ten empty eggshells, almost lovingly reconstructed, and only two unbroken eggs -- assures me this is quite normal. It was like discovering that everyone else has nightly dreams about Liberace riding a bedazzled Stegosaurus and I've been missing out with my boring, non-sparkly dreams.

But it also admittedly grossed me out. The rather disgusting idea of "trash" inhabiting the same space in the small, enclosed carton with fresh food has been gnawing at me. Couldn't this result in some sort of cross-contamination? I already get panicky when I have to touch raw chicken; the thought of albumen leaking across the egg carton into other compartments -- no matter how far-fetched -- was making me itchy.

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I did not make this particular Scumbag Steve meme. I found it on the Internet. But this means I am not alone.
Curious as to why my buddy was doing this -- his only response was, "Why not?" -- I looked to Google.

It turns out that this is a more common habit than I'd expected, and typically one passed down in families.

"The carton is right there and the trash can is way over there!," explained one friend on Twitter. "Plus it's how my grandpa did it, and his breakfast was the best."

This makes sense; learned behavior is the same reason I salt my coffee grounds before brewing and thicken my eggs with cream before cooking. But while the merits of either of those activities can be debated, I can't understand why anyone would put trash back into its original container and then store it alongside all the other non-trash food in one's refrigerator. This doesn't seem up for any kind of debate at all.

I am not alone in thinking this, at least.

Food blog This Week For Dinner debated the merits of storing broken eggshells in the carton, coming to the conclusion that while it probably isn't harmful, the mere plausibility of cross-contamination is reason enough to avoid the practice. "Putting broken shells back in the carton just doesn't seem clean or safe," blogger Jane Maynard wrote.

And over at The Straight Dope forums, one of the posters perfectly captured my baffled reaction to first finding broken eggshells stored in the carton: "Do you put empty soup cans back in the cupboard?" he asked. "Then why would you put empty eggshells back in the carton?"

My point exactly. When something is spent, throw it away or compost it. Why keep it hanging around, like some creepy reminder to the other eggs in the carton that this is the fate which awaits all of them?

As a final piece of evidence, I found this compelling argument on a Web site that seemed only slightly more credible than Yahoo! Answers (GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME):

This is probably a tradition that should be ended. There are as many as 8,000 microscporic pores in eggshells. Bacteria and mold can easily find a path into cracked eggs. It may spread bacteria to other eggs, there are natural barriers that protect egg nutrients yet can provide nutrients for bacteria, these protector are (cuticle, shell, shell membrane and albumen or egg whites). So those old cracked eggs that are still moist are waiting for bacteria to attack this wetness.

I was ready to feel quite full of myself about this whole broken egg shell business, when pastry chef and Fluff Bake Bar owner Rebecca Masson appeared to side with my buddy.

"Back in the egg carton," Masson told me of her spent eggs. "I do it for speed, I guess, but we are cracking 12-plus eggs at a time." I was crestfallen. If a professional pastry chef was employing this practice, then I'd been doing it wrong all along. But then she quickly clarified.

"We don't put [the empty egg shells] back in the fridge, though," Masson said. "We toss."

Readers, what do you do with your spent egg shells?



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19 comments
natalo45
natalo45

Eggs are usually cooked at high enough temperatures to kill any "microbes"  they "might" absorb from the "contaminated eggs". I asked Gramps, 89, what he thought. "Been doing this (putting the cracked shells back in the carton) since I was 12." Scrambled or over-light? 

andreihp42
andreihp42

there had to be something better to write about

csoakley
csoakley

When I started my compost bin my strategy for egg shells has been to put them back in the carton. When all the eggs are gone I throw the shells and recycled carton into the bin. No waste and I haven't caught Ebola yet so all is well in the world.

Sarah Belham
Sarah Belham

Crunch them up and throw them into the potted plants.

Moe Ali
Moe Ali

Grind them into a powder and sprinkle them on your pets food..

Mary Walker
Mary Walker

I was cautious about doing this after I got married- I didn't want to gross out my somewhat squeamish husband. Then I caught him putting the empties back in while making an omelette one day, and all was right in the world again.

Nate
Nate

I don't even own a tv!

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

So what do y'all do when you get one of those cartons that has had an egg break in it, and the eggs are sticking to the carton?  Throw the whole thing out?

I've never put egg shells back in the carton, but primarily as a deterrent to having the remaining eggs get stuck.  I've never worried about cross-contamination. 

Jeff_in_Seabrook
Jeff_in_Seabrook

The calcium in egg shells helps prevent blossom end rot in home-grown tomatoes. Compost them.

Anse
Anse

Since eggs stay good in the fridge for weeks, spent egg shells aren't going to smell bad for a while. It's a weird habit, but there are far grosser things happening in the dark corners of my fridge vegetable crisper even as we speak.

Cathy Carson Hertzing
Cathy Carson Hertzing

I was wondering about the salt too! I want to know about that! I throw away the egg shells, but can see why some don't.

Katie Ertel
Katie Ertel

I do it sometimes for speed and because it reduces the drip factor. I don't trash them, I eventually put them in the compost. When I worked in a grocery store, we often removed broken eggs from cartons and replaced them with ones in tact from other cartons...gooey bits left in there and all. I don't see how this is different.

Karen O'Brien Cowart
Karen O'Brien Cowart

Yep, I put the empties back in the carton. It's easy enough to tell they are used, and very convenient when cracking eggs not to have to run to the trash in between each one.

Mitsy Marshall Parton
Mitsy Marshall Parton

and I'm curious about the salt in your coffee grounds...so clue me in when you get a chance. haha

Mitsy Marshall Parton
Mitsy Marshall Parton

ftr- I do it. It started because I lived in a neighborhood where the trash only ran once a week. I put the empties (with all their dregs and such) back in the carton to cut down on food trash in my kitchen and in the big bin outside until trash day. Not sure why I STILL do it. Might need to examine that. ;)

Megan
Megan

Here's how I do it.  If I'm only using a few eggs, I take them out of the carton, place them in a bowl with warm tap water to remove some of the chill, then put the rest away.  I then throw the shells directly into the trash can.  If I'm using all the eggs in the carton, they go back in the carton (on the opposite side of the eggs) and the carton is tossed in the trash.  (Note: I only do this if there are a few left, or I specifically need a dozen.)  Or I get really lazy, toss the eggshells in the sink, and clean them up later.  The broken eggshells NEVER go back in the carton if there are still some whole ones there.  But I was a biology major in college and studied microbiology, so there's that.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Eggs shells are great in the garden, good way of getting calcium back into the soil..

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