Words by: Family Farm Team
Have you ever wondered if that cracked egg in your carton is safe to eat? Or if that dozen you forgot to take out of your car after a grocery run is a lost cause? Or when you should toss those last few slices of quiche? Read on for our guide to egg safety, storage, and handling, and get the information you need to keep yourself or your family safe in the kitchen.
In the United States, commercial egg producers like us must keep eggs refrigerated at all times, and it's recommended that you do the same as a consumer. This all stems from the process of washing eggs, which the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires.
The USDA believes that the best way to prevent foodborne illness, particularly salmonella, is to thoroughly wash eggs before they are packaged and transported to your local grocery store. Here at Pete and Gerry's, we use a light, organic approved soap to wash our egg shells. After the eggs are washed, they are sanitized with a mild chlorine solution. Throughout this process, our quality assurance team monitors critical control points like wash- and rinse-water temperature, detergent levels, etc. Washing our eggs has many benefits, such as removing contaminants like dirt, feathers, and manure. Unfortunately, the process inadvertently removes the protective “cuticle,” or the natural outer layer of the shell. Once the cuticle is removed, the shells becomes porous, creating the potential for bacteria to enter the egg. Refrigerating eggs at 40F or colder prevents bacterial growth on these freshly cleaned shells.
In contrast to the U.S., many European countries have made it illegal for commercial egg producers to wash eggs, so most of the eggs sold in Europe still have a protective cuticle and are safe to store at room temperature.
The “danger zone” for optimal bacterial growth is between 40F and 140F, so it's important to avoid leaving eggs or egg-containing foods in that temperature range for very long. This is true even for pasteurized eggs. Bacteria needs water in order to grow, and the "sweat" or condensation that can almost immediately form on cold eggs when left out at room temperature presents an opportunity for any lingering bacteria on the surface of the egg or in the air to grow rapidly. Keeping eggs at 40F or below not only prevents the growth of bacteria and mold, but also preserves the sturdiness of the egg whites and yolks. Although there's some debate, the general consensus in the egg industry is that eggs should never be left out for more than two hours.
Hot dishes containing eggs should be served immediately. This includes casseroles, quiches, and simple preparations like scrambled eggs. The FDA recommends consuming refrigerated leftovers within 3-4 days, depending on the other ingredients in the dish. This timeline is slightly longer for hard-boiled eggs, which should be used within one week of cooking, whether or not you choose to peel them.
Eggs can be frozen to extend their shelf life, but there are some important steps you should take to ensure that this is done in a safe way that won't affect the texture of the egg whites and yolks. Find our tips and recommendations for the best way to freeze eggs here.
When trying to determine if an egg is still fresh, the best course of action is to consult the date printed on the carton. At Pete and Gerry's, we print a best by date alongside a few other pieces of information that will help you determine whether the eggs are still okay to eat.
Best by date:
Products at the grocery store may be stamped with a use by, sell by, or best by date, depending on the type of product and the state in which it is sold. So what does "best buy" mean, anyway? For our eggs, it means that we recommend consuming them on or before the date printed on the carton. If that date has passed, or if you're unsure of the date, the water test for egg freshness is a great option.
Julian date: The Julian date refers to the day of the year on which the eggs in the carton were cleaned and packaged. For shelled eggs, the length of time between the Julian date and the best by date is 45 days.
Plant number: The plant number refers to the location where the eggs were packaged. In our case, it's typically one of two small packing facilities in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
Pack line: The pack line refers to the location inside of the packing facility where the eggs were packaged.
Pack time: The pack time refers to the time of day during which the eggs were packaged.
Eggs can be both fragile and unpredictable, and things like improper storage, mishandling, or even the tiniest hairline cracks can create an ideal environment for bacterial growth. The good news? When an egg has gone bad, it usually isn't hard to tell. Just look for these visual and smell-related cues: cracks, watery consistency, black spots on the inside of the shell, and unusual odors.
The firm answer is no. Visible and hairline cracks allow bacteria to enter into the egg, which can compromise the egg white and yolk and lead to premature spoilage. Most cracks are easy to spot, but hairline cracks can be impossible to see with the naked eye. If you ever come across an egg that seems to be "glued" to the carton, it's likely that a hairline crack has occurred, allowing a tiny amount of egg white to leak out of the egg and dry, thus "glueing" the shell to the carton.
If an egg seems very loose and watery but is still well within its use by date, it's not unlikely that a hairline crack has allowed bacteria to enter and prematurely age the egg. However, an egg that is past or very close to its use by date will often appear watery as well. In general, it's best to err on the side of caution and discard watery eggs.
Black or brown spots attached to the inside of an egg shell usually indicate mold growth, which is almost always a result of improper storage (for example, eggs stored at room temperature or transferred from a warm environment to a cold environment) or a crack that has allowed bacteria to enter the egg. Dark spots on the yolk or in the egg white itself are typically blood spots, which occur naturally and are, completey safe to eat.
Smell is one of the easiest ways to detect a rotten egg. The most common odor is a strong, sulphurous one that becomes obvious when you crack open the egg. In extreme cases, you may even get a whiff of sulphur before the egg has been cracked.
July 13, 2022
I buy my eggs from local people and they are unwashed. Does your advice above, “never wash eggs at home.“ Still apply in this circumstance? What is your reasoning behind your advice to not wash eggs at home? What is your reasoning behind your advice to not wash eggs at home?
July 14, 2022
We think there might be a slight misunderstanding here: we recommend a "dry cleaning" method for getting any dirt on the exterior shell off. Simply wipe it off with a dry cloth or paper towel. Eggs from local farms typically aren't washed, which is okay(they aren't required to if they're not USDA certified) and actually makes the eggs last a little bit longer, as they still have that protective membrane outside the shell. This protective layer is why farm fresh eggs are able to kept at room temperature, whereas ours need to be refrigerated. If you were to wash them with water, it would strip that away. Our eggs no longer have that protective membrane, which is why we have to stick to the 45 day window(and every best by date we print IS exactly 45 days from when the hen laid the eggs!).
Hope this information helps to answer this question for you. Feel free to reach out to us any time you have other questions or concerns: [email protected], happy to help!
November 15, 2021
Thank you for this information. Very helpful.
We're so glad that we could help! Let us know if you ever have any other questions. Have an eggs-cellent day!
March 15, 2021
I see the Julian date is the red one on your list. In the picture it shows191 is in red. What do “ the numbers [email protected] . I would like to know that. Thank you
Thank you for your question. The julian date represent what day of the year (out of 365) the eggs were packed. In our example a julian date of 191 means the eggs were packed on July 9th. Thanks for your loyalty toward small family farms!
January 18, 2019
January 03, 2019