Fresh food usually equals better taste and better nutrition. The word ‘fresh’ shows up a lot when advertising produce, eggs, and meat. But, how fresh is all that food? Today we’ll look at how ‘fresh’ supermarket eggs can really be.
When it comes to supermarket eggs, there are two time frames determining its freshness on the shelf.
- An egg has 30 days to make it into a package after being laid.
- It then has another 30-45 days from being packaged before it has to be sold.
So, you can buy 2.5 month old eggs, where you take them home and then store in your fridge until use!
Now hopefully those eggs aren’t that old, but I’d bet we’re still not exactly buying the freshest eggs. There’s nothing bad about eating an older egg. However, over time nutrients will diminish as it sits, the whites will be runnier, the yolk less firm, and it has a higher chance of bacteria entering through the shell.
We know the health contents of the egg diminishes over time like most foods, but what about when you go to cook with it? Taste shows freshness when eating just eggs alone. Older eggs do great hard boiled. You have to steam fresh eggs to be able to peel them after being hardboiled. (they have to be super fresh though). If you’re baking, fresh eggs are better to make the baked goods turn out better. This is especially important if your making things like meringue, egg based batters, or icing.
But if you want to know how fresh the eggs are, there’s a way to tell by looking at the package. All packages are different, and labeling can vary state to state.
Look for a number between 001-365
The first thing you look for is a number between 001 and 365. This tells you what day of that year the egg was packaged. Remember, this doesn’t tell you when the egg was laid. The egg could be 30 days old on the day it’s packaged, but hopefully it’s not.
So what could possibly make an egg take 30 days to be packaged? Well, it has to be laid, then collected, cleaned, sorted, candled (to make sure it’s not fertilized), then put in a carton and packaged how it’s going to be packaged. Then it has to be shipped to the store, and then put out on the shelf.
For an easy way to find the date that correlates with this number, use the Julian Date Calendar provided on the federal government website.
‘Sell By’, ‘Best By’ or ‘EXP’ Date
The second number to look for is the date. The egg could potentially be 2 months old on that ‘sell by’ date.
A ‘sell by’ date tells retailers when the product has to be removed from the shelves. A ‘best by’ date typically is meant to tell customers when it’s best to use the product for freshness. Usually it’ll still be taken off shelves before/on this date however.
If it says ‘sell by’ then it should be taken off the shelf within 30 days. If it’s a ‘best by’ date, then it should be taken off the shelf within 45 days. I’m unsure why some are labeled ‘sell by’ or ‘best by’.
A ‘sell by’ or expiration date is not required federally, but may be by state. It all depends on where the eggs are put in the market. Some states don’t allow ‘sell by’ dates to be marked.
The P— Number
You will also find a number such as P-1234 on the carton which tells which egg-plant it came from. This is good to know in case there’s a recall.
Here are some examples off egg cartons I took images of on February 13th. I took a look at eggs at my local Whole Foods, and then at a big box conventional market, Meijer, to see if there was any difference in freshness of eggs between two different types of groceries. Forgive me if any of my math is incorrect.
These eggs were at my local Whole Foods.
#1. This was the most expensive egg on the self at $6.49. The only label on it says ‘Sell by 3/17/17’. It has another 32 days to sell. Seems like these eggs should be reasonably fresh.
#2. This was one of the cheaper eggs by Whole Foods brand. The eggs were packaged on January 18th, given by the ‘018’ (packaged 25 days ago). It has a ‘best by’ date of March 3rd. So that means it has 44 days from being packaged to remain on the shelf.
#3. These are local eggs, their label is easy to read. They were packaged on January 17th, 26 days ago. They have 48 days to sell from being packaged, so a remainder of 21 days to sell.
#4. From a larger organic egg farm. Packaged January 31st, 2 weeks ago, and have until March 16th to sell.
These photos were taken at my local Meijer store.
#5. Regular store brand eggs. They were packaged on February 5th, 10 days ago, and have until March 6th sell, 31 days from now. These are probably the most widely sold egg of all these egg producers from these examples.
#6. These are store brand organic eggs. They were packaged on ‘009’, January 9th, 35 days ago. The sell by date went off 6 days ago, and have 9 more days until the ‘Best by’ date goes off.
#7. These are brand name ‘better’ eggs. Packaged on ‘018’ January 18th. They have to be sold by Feb 16th, 29 days from packaging date.
Next time you’re at the grocery, see what dates are on those eggs and if it varies each shopping trip.
The Float Test
You can test the freshness of eggs by doing the ‘float test’. This tests the amount of air in an egg; more air less fresh. Less air more fresh. Fill a glass or a deep bowl with water. If the egg goes to the bottom and lays on its side, it’s fresh. It if completely floats, the egg may be bad. Somewhere in between and you get the point.
Of course, how you store an egg will determine how fresh it stays. Some people who keep chickens keep eggs on this egg skelter out on the counter top. The freshest egg stays at the bottom of the spiral ready to grab and use.
Of course, eggs like this haven’t been washed in a factory, stripping the ‘bloom’ which is a protective coating that seals the eggshell and keeps it fresher longer. Fresh eggs with the bloom on it can be left at room temperature for around a month. Of course, it will taste best if eaten within 2 weeks.
The #1 way to store eggs however is in a sealed container at 35-40 degrees no matter if it’s a fresh or store-bought egg. Done this way, an egg may still be edible after 6-8 months! If a egg stinks, it’s bad. You’ll know if it is!