The Rotten Egg That Wasn’t

This morning, while my oatmeal was in the microwave cooking, I checked in on our family science project.

I only had to walk three steps to the right, over between the toaster and the stovetop, to a little tiny egg sitting in a perfect little nest.

I lifted it up and put it to my nose. I smelled it, carefully and deeply, while turning it around and around in my hand.

It smelled mostly fine.

We haven’t named it, but if we did, we might call it The Rotten Egg That Wasn’t.

Here’s a picture:

Egg

We put this egg in this little container, all cozy with paper-towel padding, many months ago, to see how long it would take to get rotten. And what it would smell like when it was.

That was NINE months ago.

And it still isn’t rotten.

Not fully.

It smells a tiny bit off, but only if you put your nose in just the right spot and breathe in fully. From every other angle it smells pretty darn good.

And for a full six months, it smelled perfect.

Fresh as a baby’s soft, powdered cheek.

I gotta say, this surprises me.

I have worried about the eggs in my refrigerator. I’ve even thrown some out after a while for fear that they weren’t “good” anymore.

Yet this egg has been sitting out at room temperature for nine long months and it still can’t be declared fully rotten.

What’s up with that?

What’s up with it, my friends, is simply this: Food doesn’t go bad nearly as quickly as we think it will.

Now, to be sure, eggs are probably on one end of the spectrum. Most foods wouldn’t survive being left out on the counter for six or nine months.

Agreed.

But they will last in a lunch tote for a day or two without refrigeration.

Even in a hot car in the summer.

It’s true!

Okay, but so what?

Why does this matter?

It matters because when you commit yourself to eating well, you commit to being responsible for your own food.

Unfortunately, our society is not currently organized to support people in being healthy when it comes to food. On the contrary, our society undercuts healthy eating at just about every turn by making available and fully normalizing all manner of counterproductive choices.

When it comes to food, to get Happy, Thin, and Free, you’ve got to swim upstream and stop eating with the flow. In our society the food-flow leads to being Sad, Fat, and Enslaved.

So, by and large, you’re going to have to bring your own food.

Not always, but pretty often.

And therefore, it matters how long your food is going to last, and whether it’s necessary to pack ice in your lunch cooler bag.

Want to know a secret?

I never do.

Pack ice.

Ever.

Because I know the truism immortalized by the egg on my countertop: Food lasts.

Do you want to know how I learned this?

I learned it traveling around the world.

From 2003-2005, my husband and I lived in Sydney, Australia. I was doing my Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Psychology at the University of New South Wales, and my husband was getting his MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management there.

During that time I traveled back to the United States, or to Europe or the Middle East, four times. That’s four trips there and four trips back. One was a trip literally around the world. (Those are cool plane tickets. You buy one “around the world” ticket and you get to pick out whatever stops you want….all included.)

So. Four times two (there and back) is eight.

Eight loooonnnngggg trips.

One trip lasted 41 hours. That was a trip from the East Coast of America back to Sydney, but via Tokyo. And I had a 12 hour layover in Tokyo. That made the trip 41 hours.

For that trip I had to pack six meals.

Six.

Crazy, but I did it. I brought all my own meals. I even made a spreadsheet to figure out when to eat them.

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of this before, but eating “three meals a day” kinda breaks down when you cross a bunch of time zones.

Pop quiz: When you fly from New York to Sydney, how many meals should you eat?

I can tell you.

I’ve developed a system.

It depends on when you depart, when you arrive, and how many hours there are in between.

There’s a long answer that requires a pretty detailed Excel spreadsheet.

But the short answer is that you eat the last meal on home turf at the obvious time given the time zone you’re leaving from (e.g., if your flight leaves New York at 3 pm, you will eat lunch right before you arrive at the airport), and then once you arrive you’ll eat a meal at the first obvious time, given the local time where you’re landing (e.g., if your flight arrives in Sydney at 10 am, plan to eat breakfast a couple of hours before you land, and then seek out lunch at around noon, once you’re settled in at your new home base).

And then you take all the hours in-between and divide them by six.

Eat approximately every six hours while you’re in transit.

The reason is that the typical 24-hour meal pattern breaks down when you’re traveling.

Let me explain.

Standard meal times are to eat breakfast around 7 am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6. Even considering a wide range of fluctuations from this norm, in general, people who eat three times a day eat their meals 4-6 hours apart, and then DON’T EAT for 12-13 hours.

But that doesn’t work when you’re traveling.

The not eating part.

I don’t know about you, but I have never once in my life gotten 8 solid hours of sleep on an airplane. When you’re traveling, you’re UP. Even if you cat-nap here and there, it’s nothing like a full night’s sleep, and you frankly can’t count on it happening at all.

Plus, traveling is grueling.

Even if you’re not flapping your wings to get there, it’s exhausting, and the body needs fuel for the journey.

So the only humane thing to do is to plan in advance to deliver that fuel.

Which brings us back, once again, to the fact that you’re going to have to pack your own food.

Because if there’s any time and place where healthy eating is LEAST supported, it’s on an airplane. 7-Up and pretzels, anyone?

Right. No thanks.

Sooooo…..

In all those trips hither and yon, I never packed my food on ice. And it never went bad.

Because of that experience, I got bold and started re-using lunches.

Before you wrinkle your nose at me, let me explain.

Once in a blue moon I have my lunch packed and ready for the day, and then mid-morning a friend calls and invites me out to lunch.

So I go.

And when I arrive home, that perfectly good lunch is uneaten in a bag on the passenger seat of my car.

And it wasn’t packed with ice.

So, what do I do with it?

You guessed it.

I bring it inside, put it in the fridge, and plan to eat it the next day.

And I do.

And it’s fine.

I suspect that some of you will never, ever do this. You were born and raised with a fridge and have never perhaps considered that people in other parts of the world leave food out on the windowsill for days at a time. Indeed, there are places in the world where not much, if anything, gets refrigerated at all.

But if there’s just one person who takes this lesson to heart, and uses this information to happily leave the ice in the freezer and re-use a meal here or there…then I’ll be a happy camper. Happy because knowing that food doesn’t go bad very quickly really does make things just a little easier around the edges.

I will join with you, and never, ever throw away another half-eaten carton of eggs just because they’ve been sitting in the refrigerator for a long while.

And in the meantime, if you’re hoping to have rotten eggs come Halloween, now you know that you’d better set them out on the counter on November 1st.

With love,

Susan

 

Comments

  1. Isabel Anderson

    In this day where everyone is overly germ phobic That is good to know!

    Reply ·
  2. Donovan

    So…
    What your saying is that you do like green eggs! Do like green eggs AND ham Susan I Am?

    I am amazed that eggs last so long, especially since they have such short use by dates. I like the problem solving on such a specific issue! It is great to be proactive on those sneaky things the mind can do. Great post!

    Reply ·
    1. Donovan

      Oops! I meant to say “you are,” not “your.”

      Reply ·
  3. danielle

    Do you have a reference guide or cheat sheet to refer to when estimating how long food will last, both refrigerated and not? One common example is uncooked chicken in your refrigerator. Sources on the internet say 1-2 days max.

    Reply ·
  4. Kate

    I have been practicing this more relaxed treatment of food since I stopped eating animal products 4 years ago. Makes things a lot easier.
    Thanks, Susan for a great post. Except for the rotten smelly eggs part :-))

    Reply ·
  5. Mary Jeane

    A mantra in my home growing up was “Keep it hot or keep it cold or don’t keep it”

    Reply ·
  6. Joseph Fleischman

    For anyone who brings meals along, it’s great to know that without refrigeration, food rots slower and lasts longer than we believe. Also, it seems that consuming overly ripe non-animal food, that is, food that grows in the ground, isn’t as dangerous, i.e. won’t make us nearly as sick, as eating animal food turned bad.
    Joseph in Campeche

    Reply ·
  7. Jade

    Those beautiful decorated Ukranian eggs they make with wax relief and dyes are made with uncooked eggs. The use wax for resist and dye them over and over in layers. What happens is that because of the tiny holes in the shell the liquid evaporates leaving the membrane inside and the egg is stronger than an egg that has been blown out and is totally hollow.

    Reply ·
    1. Joan Gaska

      With time the egg dries up inside and if you shake it, it rattles.

      Reply ·
  8. Monica Hunter

    Love this post! I travel far 2-3 times a year and would love it if you would elaborate a little on what you pack. So far, I am really enjoying BLE, and yes, things are getting a wee bit easier.

    Reply ·
  9. Jazz Lee

    Hey everyone, I loved the article it was quite interestingly cute. Made me smile…I am an eggy girl and had my egg looking salad for breakfast today. I LOVE IT!!!. I have left boiled eggs out for up to 4 days because I didn’t get around to them and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENED TO THEM AT ALL..

    Keep on eatn’ them thangs….

    Be careful though of foods that you put tomatoes of all sorts in it ferments really fast and makes you feel kinda like food poisoning is setting in…

    Reply ·
  10. Natalie

    You are incredible! You just hit big points that are right on. I lived in the Middle East for 4 years and I had never seen a refrigerated egg. Instead, they were stacked in flats of 21’s that went up to almost the ceiling. I always questioned this as were are so conditioned that eggs have to be refrigerated. Of course, if I wanted eggs, this was the only way to but them. We NEVER got sick from egg dishes-souffles,quiches,plain cooked,etc.. Also, I remember from my childhood, an Elderly Lady telling me that there was nothing wrong with a “marintated salad”. Meaning, if you did not get to eat all the salad from dinner, it will still be alright tomorrow.
    Yes, of course you have to be selective in what is OK. But, most of the time, food does not have to pristinely come out of the fridge.
    Thanks for the reminder .

    Reply ·
  11. lee silverstein

    Here is so interesting news along these lines.Tonght I picked up a bottle of left over raw coconut water and took a swig.It tasted really foul! I peeked inside the bottle and saw a lg fuzzy cloud and realized that it was mold.I am real cautious with suspicious food and called poison comtrol.I was told no harm can come from this kind of mold.I am relieved but will be more careful next time.Thanks for the interisting post. lee in fl.

    Reply ·
  12. Veronika

    I’ve done this too. Re-using lunches from the previous day and eating thing that have passed their expiration date. In Sweden, they have actually changed “expires” to “best before” on packaging.
    I think for anything, it’s about looking, smelling and touching to determine if it’s still edible. Sometimes food hasn’t started to smell, but there is a slight slime on it, cucumbers in a salad are prone to do this. If that has happened, then I throw it out. 🙂

    Reply ·
  13. Linden Morris Delrio

    Susan, you are a woman after my own heart!!! Great article!

    Reply ·
  14. LaDawn

    Great post! We lived closed to some “Old order” Menninites for a couple years. They have no electricity. We learned a lot about keeping food without ice or a fridge, and that was in the South! 🙂

    Reply ·
  15. Luci

    How did you manage to bring food on international flights? The rules seem so strict now – fruits and vegetables are especially forbidden.

    Reply ·
  16. Emily

    So true! The French and Italians let their fine cheeses breathe and here in Mexico, eggs are sold from a countertop, as are veggies and fruits. I have to laugh when I remember thinking I’d have to rush home with my groceries to avoid them going bad.

    Reply ·
  17. Wilma Zeedijk-Kejsers

    HI, maybe a silly question: but is that a boiled egg Susan that you are doing the experiment with?

    Reply ·
  18. Shawn

    Ditto on world traveling helping me get beyond a mom who was paranoid about food being left out. Once I saw raw and cooked chickens hanging in the hot sun with flies on them–not in a 3rd world country but in an upscale part of Paris–I started to relax (and that fit better with what I had already believed was probably true).

    She was especially concerned with leaving turkey out after thanksgiving dinner (we had to refrigerate it than get it out again for sandwiches later since our dinners in Iowa were around 12-1); and I still don’t know the truth about mayonaise (potato salad is touted as a very dangerous thing at a picnic if left out). Sometimes I’m too tired to bring in groceries, and if it’s cold or even cool out, I’ll leave then in the car overnight–which a friend of mine said she would never do.

    It’s all just personal preference and what we have come to believe, but I just think it’s refreshing, Susan, that you are opening the door for us to relax and have one less thing to worry about when it comes to making this work. I’m big on questioning beliefs we have bought into without questioning them!

    Finally, I love your egg experiment. (as an aside, when my daughter was about 5, she showed me a white egg that she also wrapped in kleenex and hid in a box in her drawer to see what would happen. It had never been hard-boiled; and by the time she showed it to me, there was nothing in it and the shell continued to get more shiney and luminous! I love how we keep discovering what we have in common–you are the only other family i know of that has left an egg out to see what would happen!)

    Thanks for sharing your findings! xxo

    Reply ·
  19. Totally unimpressed

    Goodness, I bet you drive sane people into madness. Sorry for the people already seated who keep getting hit in the head with your backpack full of smelly egg salad and humus when you over pack your carry on and force somebody else to have to gate check their bag. Be sure to explain to the flight attendant you are special and you have an algorithm at which times you must eat, regardless if your bag rustling wakes everybody sleeping around you. It’s okay though, because you’re doing it right and they are wrong, those slackers. When you’re sitting for hours on end, you really don’t need to eat as much, plus smaller meals that extend through the entire flight time are better. Unless you want to be famished while trying to settle into your new home and are forced to, heaven forbid, eat something you didn’t leave sitting out for a few days. As a nutritionis I agree that some foods can last a while without refrigeration, however, your this blog is dangerous, because some foods do spoil rapidly and people can become deathly sick from eating them. Be responsible with your audience. Leave a tuna sandwich, middle of summer, in your car for two days and tell me how that lunch goes for you.

    Reply ·
    1. Totally unimpressed

      Nutritionist, with a “t”.

      Reply ·
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