Salmonella is the biggest risk to the general public and that includes your own flock. Proper handling of those eggs from the coop to kitchen is very important to prevent contamination in the kitchen, but it is equally important to properly cook the food to the proper temperature to kill the bacteria. Restaurants have a warning on all menus that improperly cooked food is at the diner's risk and warn against Sunnyside Up or undercooked eggs and Rare cooked meats because of the risks of food borne illnesses. Most cases of salmonella are caused by improper food handling and improper cooking temperatures.
Eggs can get soiled especially during inclement weather. As the hens walk around in the mud after a rain, then enter a nesting box, that mud from her feet enters the nest. And that mud is full of bacteria from the chicken run and coop, no matter how clean you keep those areas. A nest becomes contaminated with feces as some new laying pullets may poop in the nest as they wait to lay an egg. No matter how clean you keep the nesting boxes or how often they are changed, they become soiled each time a hen enters that nest to lay. And chickens do not wipe their feet before entering those nesting boxes.
The best you can do is change the nesting boxes often, keep the coop and run areas as clean as possible, add a thick layer of bedding in the coop and run, and collect the eggs frequently, but this does not eliminate all the bacteria.
Overcrowding in the coop and run can also be a cause for dirty eggs, or not having enough nesting boxes for the number of hens you are raising. There should be one nest per every 3-4 hens, and there should be at least 4 square feet per bird in the run to prevent overcrowding and this is a case where more space is better, the 4 square feet is the absolute minimum. If the birds are fussing with each other most of the time, there is a good chance they need more room. The space on the perches is not as critical as the space in the run. Typically 1 square foot per bird on the perches is ample and in winter months the chickens huddle together for shared warmth. The space between them is important during the warmer months so they can spread their wings to stay cooler when perched. The flock needs plenty of room in the run for dust bathing, grooming and exercise, so do not scrimp on that space.
When a chicken lays an egg, the final step in the process is the "bloom" or *cutical*, a special coating that covers the egg to prevent entry of bacteria into the interior of that egg. When washed, that bloom is removed, allowing bacteria to enter the thousands of pores in the egg shell.
If eggs are not badly soiled, a soft cloth may be enough to wipe them off without disturbing the bloom, but if the eggs are badly soiled, you may have no alternative but to wash the eggs. If you do wash the eggs, do not soak them; soaking allows bacteria to enter the pores. Just rinse them in warm water, then dry thoroughly with a soft towel, and only rinse the eggs that you will be using immediately. The water should only be comfortably warm, not hot and not cold, around 90 degrees F. is comfortable to most of us. If you are not using the eggs immediately they must be refrigerated until ready to use. In addition, never crack those eggs over the pan or bowl that you are preparing the eggs in. Crack in an entirely separate container, to prevent any bacteria from the shell from dropping into the food and contaminating it.
Washing your hands after collecting eggs, and removing outer clothing goes a long way in preventing kitchen contamination, but is simple bio-security that we should all practice for the safety of our families and ourselves. Even the healthiest flock and cleanest environment is contaminated with a variety of bacteria and salmonella is present in the gut of all species of fowl and proper handling is essential to prevent food borne illness. It is especially important to teach children to wash their hands after handling fowl and the eggs and it is important to never put your hands around your face until they have been thoroughly washed with soap and water. Practicing good bio-security is essential in preventing illness in your flock and in your home.
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