Questions About Egg Expiration Dates Answered

Brown eggs in egg cartons

We associate eggs with farm fresh food and modern homesteaders, but the egg industry can seem far removed from the ways people have been enjoying and interacting with eggs for centuries. Beyond that, the ways that eggs are processed or handled in the United States differs from other countries, leading to confusion about washing, expiration dates, freshness and safety. At Falcon Packaging, we work with large and small egg producers and are here to help consumers understand the ins and outs of egg safety, with a heavy emphasis on enjoyment–who doesn’t love a great egg?

What kind of dates are on egg cartons for fresh eggs?

Sell-By Date

Most folks are familiar with the sell by date on egg cartons, a somewhat arbitrary date that is roughly 30 days from packaging. If the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) logo is visible, then you know the federal government is involved, and the sell by date must be under 30 days from the packaging date. If you don’t see a USDA logo, then you know that the sell by date is chosen in line with state regulations–30 days from packing is still a safe assumption, but it can vary. Some folks call this date the “expiration date,” but technically, there are so many factors–the largest of which is storage–that contribute to the safety and freshness of eggs. This roughly 30-day limit is put in place for consumer safety and to provide a general guideline to egg consumers, but eggs are often perfectly fine to eat past the 30-day window.

Either above or below the sell by date, you’ll find the plant number. This identifier begins with a “P” and is followed by a few digits. The USDA makes a handy tool available so that you can search those numbers to know exactly where the eggs that make up your favorite meals were produced.

Julian Date

Another key date to look for is the Julian date–the date the eggs were packaged. This number typically follows the plant number and will always be three digits in length. It removes days of the week and months of the year, simplifying the full calendar year to 365 consecutive days. Each day of the year makes up one number in that range. So, for example, January 1st will be listed as “001” and December 31st will be listed as “365.” Using this method, it’s pretty easy to find out which day the eggs in your fridge were packaged. If the store you’re shopping in does a swift business, eggs could be pretty close to their packing date by the time they end up in your hands. You may also find the exact time of day that the eggs were packaged.

How long are eggs safe to eat after purchase?

According to countless industry sources, including the Egg Safety Center, refrigerated eggs can be safely eaten up to 4 or 5 weeks past their packaging date–the Julian date you’ll find on the carton. This date could fall outside of the printed expiration date.

Other sources say that as long as eggs are purchased before the sell-by or expiration date, they can be safely used at home for 3-5 weeks after purchase. That direction is assuming that the eggs are stored properly and kept cool. This might come as a surprise to some, but the truth about so-called “expiration dates” on eggs is that they deal more with food quality than they do with food safety. It’s also a way for stores to prevent spoiled food from being sold by having a concrete date to remove old eggs from cooler shelves. 

Too many factors are involved that could make eggs safe or spoiled, so expiration dates are an informed guess. Just know that if stored correctly, eggs can last a long time. The best test is to crack them in a dish and check for any “off” odor or color. If there are any doubts at all about the egg’s safety, just toss it.

How long are eggs good after the sell-by date?

Like we mentioned above, expiration dates on egg cartons are there to ensure safety, and also indicate quality. It goes without saying that a fresher egg will be of a higher quality and more enjoyable to eat. That being said, so long as the eggs have been stored properly, they can generally be safely eaten as far as 2-3 weeks beyond the sell by or expiration date.

The trouble with any blanket statements about egg safety is that there’s no way to ensure that they were kept at the appropriate temperature for their entire time on store shelves, in your vehicle, and then in your refrigerator. That’s why these dates exist–to protect against illness from harmful bacteria. So once the expiration date has passed, it’s an “eat-at-your-own-risk” sort of situation–common sense required! 

Is it safe to eat eggs after their expiration date?

So, maybe you’re in disbelief–“Can you really eat expired eggs?” This comes down to dates. Whether your state is under federal or state guidelines will determine if a 30-day limit or another date is listed for the expiration date on the egg packaging. If you follow the general guidance of using the eggs within 3-5 weeks from the date of purchase, then it’s very likely that the far end of that timeline will fall outside of the expiration date. So long as the eggs have been stored properly, this is fine and should be safe for use. But if you feel more comfortable erring on the side of caution, you can also choose to buy the freshest eggs you can find and then make sure to eat them before the expiration date passes.

As mentioned above, the issue here is more of quality than safety. Eggs can lose moisture over time, resulting in thinner whites and yolks that can easily break. So they’re tastier and easier to cook with the fresher they are. That said, older eggs do run the risk of contamination and bring up the potential of transmitting a food-borne illness. This is especially true if they are removed from their carton and stored near meats, fresh produce, or other common sources of food-borne bacteria. Keep eggs in their original carton and in the coolest part of the fridge for the safest eggs-perience.

How does egg packaging affect the shelf life of eggs?

Since eggs in the US are washed before packaging, the naturally protective coating that a hen deposits on the egg is removed, making the shell more porous and able to transmit bacteria from external sources into the egg itself. This means that, to be safe for consumption, eggs must be maintained at a cool temperature. So from shipping, to store shelves, to your refrigerator, 40°F or slightly below is the sweet spot for safe egg storage. 

Supportive and stable egg packaging–like the egg trays, egg cartons, and egg boxes we produce–helps to prevent shell cracking. Cracked egg shells are a surefire way to let bacteria in and shorten the useable life of an egg. We’re with other industry experts in recommending that you not buy cracked eggs at the store, and if they do crack on the way home, empty the contents into a clean, lidded container and use that egg within a few days. 

Once you have your carton at home, get it right in the fridge on an interior shelf. Since fridge doors open and close all day long, the temperature there isn’t constant and so it isn’t ideal for safe egg storage. When it comes time to getting the egg carton out and making your favorite omelet, sandwich, or frittata, make sure the eggs meet their curfew and are back in their cool spot in the fridge within two hours time. And since eggs are already washed and sanitized at the plant prior to packing, there’s no need to wash an egg at home.

Better Egg Packaging Means Safer Eggs

Eggs that are held securely in their egg trays, egg cartons, and egg boxes resist the pressure to crack and are naturally safer to eat. Here at Falcon Packaging, we manufacture and sell egg packaging products to big box retailers and local, small-scale egg producers alike. At our warehouse facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Georgia we prove why we’re a recognized leader in the packaging industry, with state-of-the-art equipment and sights set on constant improvement. 

Consumers who buy eggs in Falcon Packaging products can trust that their eggs were well-equipped to make a safe journey from farm to fridge. If you’re an egg producer and you’re looking for a better packaging solution, get in touch with our team–we can’t wait to work with you!