The Easter egg hunt went well. The kids had fun decorating the eggs the night before and even more fun hunting for them the next day.  At the end of the day you ran across a couple of eggs they hadn’t found.  What do you do with them?  Go ahead and toss them into the refrigerator, they’ll make a great snack later.  [Cue ominous music]  Or will they?

Not to be a killjoy but it’s probably better to toss them into the compost bucket.

When it comes to eggs, or any food, really, time is critical and it’s important to consider all the time the eggs have spent outside the refrigerator during their annual 15 minutes of fame. That includes the time you spent decorating them and the time they spent hidden around the yard or house at room temperature, said Elisa Maloberti from her office in Washington, D.C. 

getting-easter-eggs-right.pngMaloberti is the director of egg product marketing for the National Egg Board, and this is the time of year when her organization begins getting plenty of calls from consumers and reporters wondering how to make the ancient tradition of painting and hiding eggs a little less hazardous. 

Ideally, eggs won’t be outside the refrigerator more than two hours total, she said. That includes both the time it takes to decorate them and the time they’re hidden. If Easter and warm weather happen to coincide in your community–reaching temperatures of 80 degrees or more–knock down that time to a very tight 30 minutes. Those are the guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maloberti said. 

There are other factors to keep in mind, as well.  Where will you be hiding the eggs?  If you’re hiding them outside, avoid doing so on a just-fertilized lawn; keep pets away from the festivities, too.  One of the marvels of eggs is their natural packaging.  Not only does it keep everything tucked away neatly inside, but the presence of thousands of pores also allows the egg to breathe.  The downside to that, of course, is that they can absorb chemicals from the lawn such as fertilizers and herbicides. Let’s not forget the ick-factor of potential exposure to, um, pet wastes, too.  

Even before you hide the eggs, though, you’ve still got a potential minefield of decorating dangers. Right off the bat, be sure you’re using food-safe dyes. They’re easily found in the baking section of just about every grocery store in the country and, every year, companies such as Paas roll out their Easter-specific egg decorating kits.

Another alternative is to make your own natural dyes. “These natural dyes will give you a softer shade pallet,” said Maloberti.

Dried onion skins will produce a gold colored dye, just as spinach will give you pale green. Even beets, she added, will still come out paler than the juice straight from the vegetable. Blueberries, purple cabbage, or coffee or tea are all good options.  A simple chef’s trick will increase the intensity of those colors somewhat, however. Begin by simmering those ingredients in just two cups of water. When you’ve extracted as much color as you want, remove the vegetables and reduce the colored water by boiling it down to half its original volume.

hunting-easter-eggs-featured.jpg“If you’re using non food-safe decorations use [those eggs] for just display,” said Maloberti.  Non food-safe dyes, paints, and glue, for example, all fall under this category. Besides being potentially toxic, they really don’t taste good. Oh, and one more point.

“Hard-cooked eggs are actually more perishable than raw,” said Maloberti, “and should be consumed within one week. Store them in their shells. We don’t recommend storing unpeeled, cooked eggs.”

That, of course, would be why she and her colleagues refer to the days right after Easter as “egg salad week.”