Updated: Feb 8
Water-glassing eggs for long-term storage seems to be the new rage on homesteads, backyard farms, and during the egg shortage since a few YouTube videos popped up a few years ago from some "ancient" family homestead recipe. A few years back, I was smitten with the idea, and with 40 laying hens on pasture, it sounded like an easy way to keep eggs for an extended time. So I decided to study it.
What is water glassing? It is the process of submerging whole fresh eggs in a large container filled with a hydrated lime solution, creating a high alkaline environment that keeps the eggs from losing moisture in storage. The container is then placed in a cool dark area for long-term storage. These eggs are to be used for cooking.
This home method for preserving eggs is available on the internet. It surfaced as a historical document in 1935. The first page of this recorded historical document states in large words, "Do not assume content reflects current scientific knowledge, policies, or practices." Yet several homesteads, farms, and YouTubers are sharing this now-proven unsafe method of egg storage... as SAFE!
Here are a few excerpts from a book in my private library titled "The Pocumtuc Housewife, A guide to Domestic Cookery" Written in 1805. Five additions were printed up until 1971 out of Deerfield, Massachusetts. This book has a water glass recipe for eggs.
This same book also has this recipe for an ordinary headache.
Wood ash in water creates LYE. Lye is the main ingredient in oven cleaners and drain openers! The people who wrote these recipes didn't know that these methods aren't safe and have horrible toxic effects, especially with regular or even occasional use.
The FDA does not recommend water glassing as a safe method for storing eggs. Calcium Hydroxide (slacked lime) is known to contain botulism in the powdered lime itself. Hydrated lime does not protect against botulism in long-term storage without acid and heat to kill it. Botulism is invisible and lives in the soil where chickens trod with their feed that often gets in contact with eggs. So not washing the eggs before water glassing raises the risk of food poisoning from environmental contamination and from using the lime itself. Botulism grows best at high pH, and this is why when homesteaders and gardeners can foods, we use acids to lower pH and high heat and pressure to kill botulism. Soaking eggs in hydrated lime could proliferate botulism on the storage shelf.
Calcium Hydroxide is toxic in high amounts. Anyone who owns chickens knows that unborn chicks breathe through the shell as they develop. Eggs are porous. Moisture and humidity move through the shell. Hence, the importance of correct humidity in an incubator to hatch chicks. The shells are so porous that it only takes the humidity off by a few percent to render a chick un-hatchable because the developing chick drowns or dries out and sticks to the inside of the shell lining as it grows. Low humidity in the incubator prevents the chick to turn inside the egg to crack the top open to hatch properly, which gives a hatching chick the "shrink-wrapped" appearance, with portions of the inner shell membrane stuck to the chick.
This moisture exchange through the shell is why we float eggs in a glass of water to see if it is fresh. As moisture moves out of the egg in storage, the air pocket gets larger at the top of the egg, making it more buoyant. A fresh egg full of moisture has a small air pocket and will sink to the bottom of the glass. An older, more dehydrated egg will float on one end.
Eggs soaking in hydrated lime will take on calcium hydroxide. Due to its calcium content, the repeated dose effects of hydrated lime are hypercalciuria, kidney stones, hypercalcemia, renal insufficiency, lethargy, coma, and death. Hydrated lime (water-glassing fluid) also causes local irritative effects on the body's external surfaces, such as the skin, eye, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract. The hydroxide ion causes these afflictions. Over time, consumption in small amounts will affect the gut lining. Click here to read about Calcium Hydroxide poisoning.
First Aid for Calcium Hydroxide Poisoning
As a homesteader that makes pickles with lime the old-fashioned way, I know that we only soak the cucumbers in lime for 24 hours and then are instructed to rinse the cucumbers THREE times to remove any excess lime. Then we go further for food safety by adding vinegar to lower the pH and water bath canning with heat to keep our pickles safe for consumption. Even still - there are a few botulism-related incidents related to pickling cucumbers with lime due to the lack of proper rinsing, and some organizations recommend not using it.
Aside from the toxic aspect and the possibility of food poisoning, there is also a safety issue. Improperly mixed, calcium hydroxide can cause irritation or burns. Young children could ingest the slacked lime fluid, thinking it to be like pickle juice, or suffer irritation or burns from not rinsing off their hands from being in the solution.
Sure, the idea sounds great, and they did do it long ago, but that doesn't mean it is still a good idea. As time and science prove safer storage methods and discover where food-borne illness comes from, we are to evolve and abandon the older, less effective, and unsafe ways and grow to accept methods that are proven the safest.
Moreover, recommending an unsafe method or selling or feeding someone food that you sold or stored in a non-FDA recommended procedure to an unknowing person that causes injury or death could make you liable. It's best and safest to follow FDA regulations when storing eggs. Don't risk your or your family's health over something as simple as an egg. There will be more next year. Please share this article with anyone who has laying hens or wants to preserve or store eggs. Keep growing safer methods on your homestead, garden, or farm.
***So, how do you store eggs safely and effectively?*** Follow the link below.
Click here for ~How to Store Fresh Eggs for a Year~
The above link is a proven USDA-safe method for preserving eggs for long-term storage. It is easy and makes for even fluffier scrambled eggs!
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Click here to download and print FDA Egg Safety Recommendations for home use.
Home Methods For Preserving Eggs ~ HISTORICAL DOCUMENT ~
First Aid for Calcium Hydroxide Poisoning
Botulism in Pickling Lime
Why Rinsing Lime From Pickles is so Important and Understanding Lime Use