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Stowing eggs for longevity

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What is the issue?
Eggs are an excellent food provision for a yacht but they are both fragile and perishable. They are often shipped in paper cartons, that in hot climates, often play host to cockroaches and thereby can introduce cockroaches aboard a vessel.

Why address this?
Eggs are an excellent food and are a highly versatile base product that contributes to many dishes. Better still they have a long lifespan which makes them perfect for cruising boats. Looking after the vessels stock of eggs and making it last longer will make for a happy ship.

How to address this?
Eggs are very well designed by nature and have an extraordinarily long lifecycle of their own accord. A fresh egg can last up to six weeks if a little care is taken. In cool temperatures of no higher than 13°C / 55°F they can be successfully stored for up to two to three months with little or no attention whatsoever. But for eggs to last that long they need an environment where the humidity is close to 75% as the eggs will go mouldy and dry out if the humidity levels are too high.

For most people, a reasonable expectation is that if you leave them alone an egg will last 30 days unwashed and stored in a cool dry place, 60 days washed and refrigerated. Cruising in warm climates however, reduces an egg's longevity and there are two measures cruisers can adopt to extend the life of their eggs:

  • Coating the shell with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Eggs go off when they get oxidised i.e. air penetrates the protective shell, the petroleum jelly adds another protective coat to prevent this whilst also preventing evaporation. Eggs coated in petroleum jelly will keep for months on end but will eventually develop an off-flavour after a few months. At about the six-month point this taint increases until it becomes unacceptable for most people. Coating with petroleum jelly also interferes with the foaming properties of the egg whites, so they no longer whip up and cannot be used in cake making.

  • Regularly turning the eggs: Turning the eggs so they do not sit and weigh down in one position prevents the egg's internal membrane from adhering to the shell. When that membrane pulls away, the inside of the eggshell dries and then the egg degrades. Simply turning the eggs completely upside down every two to three days prevents this from happening to extend the storage life.

We found turning eggs met the extended life requirements we needed during our circumnavigation. We did Vaseline our egg store once but found it was not worth the trouble nor the mess involved because eggs were broadly available in most ports and so they were easy to replenish. Simply turning them was all we needed to do and this became a trivial task once we stumbled upon a low-cost camping egg container.

Standard egg container
Photo: Michael Harpur

These are a low price item, available from most outdoors or camping stores, that are a great help when dealing with the storage of any quantity of eggs. As with our egg-case, pictured above, fifteen eggs can be flipped with a single turn of the wrist without the slightest risk of an egg breaking. They are very useful for protecting the eggs whilst they are being transported to the boat, and also if you want to put something on top of them when in storage. These type of plastic cases are easy to clean, and when the eggs are packed into them ashore they allow for the safe disposal far from the boat, of the original cardboard egg cartons that may harbour bugs.

A modern variation of the traditional egg containers are the sealed 'Lock & Lock Egg Containers' pictured below. Made of heavier plastic they tend to offer slightly better protection and being entirely sealed trap the mess from a broken egg that you may have inadvertently placed in it.

Modern Egg Storage and Transportation Case
Photo: Courtesy of Lock & Lock

The question of which method is adopted depends on the sea legs ahead, the provisioning capabilities of the destination and how deeply you think you might be burying the eggs in your holds. Once you have decided then the following pointers also apply:

  • Starting with the freshest product possible: Buy the eggs from a supplier who has a high turnover. The expiry date on the egg carton or egg itself should be checked before purchasing. Be wary, commercially produced eggs have been known to take three weeks to a month after being laid to reach a shop, and then after that on average typically sit on the retail outlet's shelves for a week before being sold. If you are planning on coating for deep long life storage only choose eggs that have been freshly laid or ones within 24 hours after being laid. These eggs can only be realistically obtained directly from the producer.

  • Avoid refrigerated or chilled eggs: Eggs only need to be refrigerated if they’ve already been refrigerated. Refrigerating the eggs shortens their lifespan once they are subsequently stored in an ambient temperature.

  • Keep them cool: Store the eggs in a clean, closed carton that is located in a cool, dry place.

Finally, make certain to check all the eggs you have stored before using them. Because an egg degrades through oxidation there is no need to crack it to check its condition, simply place it in a container of fresh water:

  • • If the egg sinks and lays flat on the bottom, it's very fresh.

  • • If the egg sits on the bottom at an angle, it's still good to eat but a little older.

  • • If the egg stands on end but still sits on the bottom, use for baking, or hard boil.

  • • If the egg floats, it is bad, and possibly rotten.

A back up to eggs is egg powder which is broadly available. However, this should only be considered a convenient back-up as there is no substitute for the taste of fresh eggs in cooking. There is no need for powder as it is so easy to store eggs for extended periods with a modicum of attention.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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