Either you do it, or you know someone who does it and it drives you nuts. Forget the great over-or-under toilet paper debate. The practice of storing empty eggshells alongside fresh eggs is as polarizing as they come. "My wife insists this is normal," wrote one exasperated Redditor recently. Their post on the controversial topic received nearly 80,000 upvotes and has more than 12,400 users weighing in. The jury is still out on if it's normal or not — people seem to be split 50/50 — but it's worth asking why saving eggshells is even a thing. And more importantly, is it safe?
Why do some people put eggshells back in the carton?
"I always put mine back in the carton," says Derree Kamp, a school librarian in Lewistown, Montana. "It's less mess because if the shells drip, it stays in the carton and doesn't get on the counter." Kamp's husband isn't a fan of putting empty shells back in the fridge. But her daughter and adult granddaughter are — both telling TODAY Food they probably do it because they saw their mom do it.
In Philadelphia, writer Matt Bell does it because he saw his boyfriend do it. "I was initially disgusted," said Bell. "I was expecting rotten egg smell to emanate from the fridge but it never did." These days, he saves empty shells in the carton because it saves him time as his garbage can isn't close by and he doesn't have a garbage disposal. He has to put the carton back in the fridge anyway, so why not just toss the shells inside?
In Halifax, Canada, administrative assistant Rosie Smith does it because it's more convenient for composting. "The carton and shells are all compostable, so it's just easier to leave the shells in there than it is to save the shells separately," says Smith. "They both end up in the same green bin anyway."
But … is it safe?
"Putting egg shells back in the carton with the remaining eggs and back in the refrigerator is not safe," Mitzi Baum, CEO of the public health organization Stop Foodborne Illness, told TODAY. Baum, who has a Master of Science in Food Safety, believes it can lead to cross-contamination and the transfer of potentially hazardous bacteria. "Eggshells can have salmonella inside, both in the egg itself and on the outer shell," explained Baum. "Putting the cracked, empty shells back in the carton increases the risk of contaminating the remaining eggs."
Kimberly Baker, Ph.D., director of the Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Program Team, agrees. "Salmonella is the most common pathogen associated with eggs," Baker told TODAY. "The pathogen is often found on the outside of the egg due to passage from the chicken’s feces to the egg during the laying process. Salmonella can be found inside the egg either naturally when it becomes contaminated during the development of the egg in the chicken’s reproductive tract or when salmonella that is on the shell of the egg is absorbed through the pores of the egg."
Baum, who eats eggs almost every morning, said she always makes sure her countertop compost bin is next to the bowl when she cracks eggs. After cracking, she immediately tosses the empty shells into the bin.
Even if it's 'normal,' is it worth it?
In more than 25 years of working in food safety, Baum admits she has yet to hear of anyone getting sick from putting empty eggshells back in in the carton. But to her, the risk simply isn't worth any potential time or mess saved. "Almost 80,000 illnesses and 30 deaths occur each year due to eggs," said Baum. "Consumers need to practice good food safety to reduce their risk of getting sick."