Good for everything from veggie-packed omelets to Instagrammable baked goods, eggs are a versatile staple food packed into a teeny little shell.
They also last pretty much forever. Er, well, at least I thought they did.
If you, like me, find yourself cracking open a carton of forgotten-about eggs from time to time, you’ve probably wondered if you can eat expired eggs.
Before you live life on the edge with your next scramble, there are a few things you should know.
First of all, that date stamped on many egg cartons is actually a “sell-by” date, which is technically different from an expiration date and isn’t required to be on those cartons by federal law. (I’ll explain; don’t worry.)
That date isn’t necessarily the end-all-be-all, though. “As long as the egg hasn’t gone bad, there is no reason you can’t still enjoy it,” says nutritionist Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet.
How’re you supposed to know whether those old eggs are actually okay to use, then? I’m about to break it all down.
Are expired eggs safe to eat?
Let’s get back to this whole “sell-by” versus “expiration” date thing here.
For the record, your eggs will not turn to total crap the second they pass the sell-by date stamped on them.
Sell-by dates are “not related to the safety of the egg whatsoever,” says food safety specialist Benjamin Chapman, PhD, professor at North Carolina State University. Instead, it’s more about flavor. “Once the date has passed, the egg loses its peak quality based on shelf life studies and consumer test preferences,” he explains.
If a carton’s sell-by date has passed, a store should theoretically pull them from shelves. Many stores use these dates as reminders that they need to rotate in new cartons, says nutritionist Alissa Rumsey, RD, owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness.
You can totally still use eggs beyond the sell-by date, though, Rumsey says.
Eggs can hang in your fridge for three to five weeks from the day you put them there, according to the USDA. The sell-by date will usually expire during that time, but as long as you stick to that window, your eggs will be “perfectly safe to use,” the USDA says.
Here’s how to tell if an expired egg is no good.
That said, if you’re not keeping close track of how long your eggs sit in the fridge, they can totally spoil before you use ’em.
Since the sell-by date won’t help you much, you’ll have to inspect the egg itself.
If an egg has spoiled, it might have sweating on the outside or look slimy, according to Chapman. If you notice any changes in appearance, chuck it.
Gans also recommends gently dropping your questionable eggs into a glass of water. “If it floats, it may be bad,” she says. “Still, double-check by cracking it and checking for an odor.”
In addition to being pretty stinky, a rotten egg will also usually have a pink or iridescent egg white, which indicates the presence of bacteria, Rumsey says.
Not sure who needs to hear this, but no, “cooking a bad egg unfortunately will not reduce the smell and off-flavor,” says Chapman. Yes, that nasty bacteria will cook off, but your egg will still be gross enough to warrant tossing out.
You can rest easy about one thing, though: While eggs can rot in the fridge, you don’t have to worry about them sprouting salmonella. “The pathogen we really worry about with eggs is Salmonella Enteriditis and it doesn’t grow below 45 degrees,” Chapman says. “Also, that contamination happens inside the egg, so once it’s there, it’s there.” (Basically, how long you leave an egg in the fridge has zero impact on the salmonella situation.)
Great. So how can I make eggs last as long as possible in the fridge?
To get the most out of your eggs, scope out the sell-by date before buying to make sure they’re as fresh as possible when you take them home, Chapman says.
From there, pop them in the refrigerator pronto, Gans says. (The USDA recommends keeping your fridge temperature at 40 degrees or slightly below, BTW.) “You should never leave eggs out of the fridge for longer than two hours in order to avoid bacterial growth,” Rumsey explains.
Turns out, where in the fridge you store your eggs also makes a difference. The USDA actually recommends stashing eggs on the actual fridge shelves and not the door, where temps aren’t always as cool (especially if you’re in and out of the fridge a lot).
The bottom line: Eggs typically last three to five weeks in the fridge (even if beyond their sell-by date). To confirm an egg is safe to eat, check it for any changes in appearance or smell.)