In our house, we either go through a dozen eggs in no time or the carton sits in the fridge unopened for weeks on end. Our craving for eggs is never consistent. So we sometimes end up peering at the expired eggs, wondering if they are still safe to eat passed their expiration date.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), eggs often hit store shelves just a few days after they are laid. Though they might have an expiration or best-by date, they can usually be used past that—but will some exceptions. Here’s what I found out.
What the Dates and Codes on the Carton Mean
Eggs typically have a use-by or sell-by date along with some numbers stamped on the carton. Here’s what they mean.
Pack date: This is a three-digit code—from 001 to 365—on the carton that tells when the eggs were packed. January 1 is 001 and December 31 is 365.
Sell-by date: On USDA-grade eggs, this date can’t be more than 30 days after the eggs are packaged. This is the same as “EXP” or an expiration date.
Best before date: Sometimes also written as “use by,” this is when quality might be expected to diminish. On USDA-grade eggs, it must be within 45 days of the pack date.
Are Expired Eggs Safe To Eat?
“Sell-by, use-by, and other code dates are used as an indication of food quality, not food safety,” says Jacob Tuell, assistant professor of animal science/food science at Northwest Missouri State University, and member of the muscle foods division at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). “As long as the eggs have been handled properly throughout storage, they should still be considered safe to consume.”
Eggs should be refrigerated as soon as you bring them home from the store and they should be kept in the original carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator. The USDA recommends storing them at 40°F or below. If refrigerated like this, eggs can generally last three to five weeks from the date you place them in the refrigerator.
If you’re bringing them home from the store or getting them ready to cook, don’t let them sit out of the fridge for more than two hours. A cold egg left outside of the refrigerator can start to sweat, making it easier for bacteria to grow.
How To Tell if an Egg Is Rotten
There’s an air pocket inside the larger end of an egg that gets bigger as the egg ages. Air penetrates the shell and moisture evaporates. This is why sometimes people will do a float test to see if an egg is fresh. A fresh egg will sink in water while an older egg can float because of the air inside.
“Once cracked, the yolk of an older egg may have a flat appearance and the white will tend to spread more,” says Tuell. “The whites of fresh eggs also typically have a cloudy appearance, whereas this may shift to becoming more translucent with time.”
Even though an egg might float or the color of the yolk and whites may indicate that it’s no longer fresh, it can still be safe to eat. That’s when you have to do a smell test and look for issues with the shell.
“For an egg to be considered spoiled… it develops an off-odor,” Tuell says. “Another consideration would be if there are any cracks, which provide an easy entry point for bacteria that can cause spoilage or foodborne illness.”
As long as the eggs have been properly stored at 40°F or below, they are safe to eat past the expiration date marked on the carton—usually three to five weeks from the day you place them in the refrigerator. Of course, when in doubt, do not eat the eggs and compost them instead.