The Risks of Repurposing Egg Cartons

Repurposing is a way of life these days, reducing the amount of usable goods that end up in landfills, as well as saving money and stimulating creativity. One common item, the humble egg carton, offers possibilities for reuse that range from children’s crafts to sprouting seeds to organizing drawers and much more. But chickens – and their eggs – may carry salmonella bacteria. Might there be some risk of infection via egg cartons? With memories of the 2010 contaminated egg scandal still fresh in the minds of American consumers, it’s time to look at just how safe repurposing these cartons really is.

Salmonella and Salmonellosis

First of all, the danger needs to be defined. Salmonella is not itself a disease but a type of bacterium, salmonella enterica. This bacterium causes food poisoning, known as salmonellosis. The symptoms of salmonellosis are not pretty, consisting of fever or chills, abdominal cramping and severe vomiting and/or diarrhea. Although these generally subside after four to seven days, the bowel may continue to be mildly affected for several months. Even more serious results of salmonella infection are typhoid fever and Reiter’s Syndrome (reactive arthritis). Population groups at highest risk for salmonellosis are infants and young children, senior citizens and those with weak immune systems, for whom the illness might be fatal.

Salmonella is spread via contaminated foods, including poultry and poultry products. Dirty or cracked eggs may transfer salmonella to their carton, where it can survive for weeks.

Salmonella in the News

Salmonella is, unfortunately, a serious issue today. On June 3, 2014, the top executives of Quality Egg LLC pleaded guilty in federal court to distributing contaminated eggs in interstate commerce. The charges stemmed from the major outbreak of salmonellosis in 2010, which affected 2000 people and caused some 500 million eggs to be recalled. That same month, the Israel Health Ministry issued a ban on utilizing used cardboard egg cartons for arts and crafts in the country’s schools and day care centers, due to the danger of salmonella. The Department of Health and Human Services in Australia has also advised against reusing egg cartons to avoid cross-contamination, as does a joint publication of Cornell University and the Farmer’s Market Federation of New York.

Shop and Handle Wisely

Use common sense when you go grocery shopping. Look for eggs and cartons that are relatively clean, without blood, droppings or cracks. (If you do buy soiled eggs, avoid washing until just before use. Washing eggs removes their natural protective coating and exposes them to contamination.) Never replace eggshells in the carton after using their contents; I had a roommate who used to do this – not healthy!

Eggs that have been treated to safeguard against salmonella contamination are available. Pasteurized eggs are naturally processed in a water bath and do not seem to offer any major disadvantages other than a slight loss of flavor. However, irradiated eggs are a different story. Repurpose of cartons from these types of eggs does not pose any risk of salmonellosis.

What You Can Do with Old Egg Cartons

Styrofoam cartons, while not the most environmentally friendly choice, may be reused after washing with soap and hot water. Cardboard cartons from untreated eggs are not recommended for crafts projects (especially for kids), storage, packing material or other household uses where they will be handled regularly or come into contact with food. However, gardeners can use them to start seedlings indoors in chilly early spring, for transfer directly to their landscape when the weather warms up. Paperboard cartons may be torn into pieces and add to your compost pile, or taken to the recycling bin. After any of these repurposes, wash your hands well with hot soapy water.

By Laura Firszt, Networx.


cynthia B.
cynthia l2 years ago

I say ban Styrofoam containers. Sprinkle your paper containers with vinegar use them for seedlings. Everything is risky but let's not get crazy either

Beryl Ludwig
Beryl Ludwig2 years ago

We always return our egg cartons to the man who raises chickens for their eggs and we have never been sick nor have any of his other customers. I used to use egg cartons growing up in school for crafts. No one ever got sick after doing so and like someone else said here, I am still alive too!

Do this don't do that pshaw!

But thank you for this information.

Christine Jones
Christine J2 years ago

Seems like another good reason not to eat eggs. Blood and droppings don't inspire my appetite.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

Well, I was saving some of my egg cartons for starting seeds, but now I'm a little bit scared.

Natasha Salgado
Past Member 3 years ago


william Miller
william Miller3 years ago


Arlette King
Arlette King3 years ago

I like to learn at least one new thing a day . thank you

heather g.
heather g3 years ago

I like the comment about one having to wear Hazmat suits.... Our local Farmers Market used to receive my cartons once the eggs were finished, but that is no longer allowed.
As in the past I've stored my eggs shells in plastic bags so that I can used the crushed eggshells in my garden. People have done that for years, but living in our contaminated world now - I'd better get rid of them... Pity, that's less to recycle !

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen3 years ago

Thank you :)

Marianne R.
Marianne R3 years ago