Egg

How to Tell If Your Eggs Are *Still* Edible

From how to store eggs in the fridge to whether the float test actually works.

March  3, 2022
Photo by James Ransom

You get home from work late, don’t have dinner planned, and the fridge is bleak: two apples, hunk of cheddar, half a bottle of white wine, and a carton of eggs that you forgot were on the bottom shelf.

A cheesy omelet sounds nice, but are those eggs still good? How do you know if eggs are safe to eat, especially if you can’t remember when you bought them or read the “best by” date clearly on the carton? Worry not. Today, we’ll show you how to tell if eggs are good, plus how to properly store them, and more.

How long do eggs last?

First things first: The fresher the egg, the better it will taste. Flavor is best within the first week. That said, according to the FDA, whole eggs in the shell can be refrigerated (40°F or below) for up to three weeks after purchase. Ideally, choose organic, heritage, or free-range eggs from chickens and hens raised in a happy environment; producers like Happy Egg Co. pride themselves on their top-of-the-line free-range farming standards, which results in a brighter, creamier yolk and all-around better egg flavor.

But, according to How to Cook Everything, eggs can be refrigerated “for as long as four to five weeks beyond the pack date” on the carton (check before you buy and try to snag a carton with the most recent date). If you’re nearing the end of that range, try to use the eggs for baked goods instead of scrambled, fried, poached, et cetera, where you would have noticed the dulled flavor more. Plus by cooking or baking the egg thoroughly, you’ll cook away any possible bad bacteria that may have started to develop in this time.

Wait, what’s a pack date?

Glad you asked. It’s not the same as other dates you might see on egg cartons, such as sell by or best by. The pack date, also known as the Julian date, is a three-digit number—ranging between 001 (January 1) and 365 (December 31)—that corresponds with a day of the year. Here’s a handy chart for reference. It refers to the specific day that the eggs were packed in the carton, without avoiding confusion about when the eggs should be consumed.

Do eggs go bad if not refrigerated?

Depends on where you are in the world. For example: In the United States, yes. In the United Kingdom, no. Why? Not because of the refrigerators, but because the eggs are processed differently. It all comes down to the cuticle, a thin coating on eggs after they’re laid.

In the U.S., commercial eggs are washed with warm water and detergent to remove the cuticle and any potential contamination on the shell (the biggest concern is salmonella). In the U.K., hens are vaccinated to prevent salmonella transmission, and the cuticle is left on as a natural barrier. But with that all said, there’s an argument for refrigerating eggs wherever you are. According to The New Food Lover’s Companion, room-temperature eggs “lose more quality in one day than a week in the refrigerator.” In our eyes, better to be safe than sorry.

How should I store eggs?

If you’re in the United States, you should store eggs in the refrigerator. Your refrigerator door probably has a cute little shelf, which holds an egg carton perfectly—but don’t use it.

Here’s why: 1) The door is warmer than the rest of the fridge (and the warmer the environment, the quicker the egg’s quality goes downhill). 2) The door moves every time you open it and the more an egg moves, the thinner its white gets. Plus, it will constantly be exposed to warm air when you open the door every 20 minutes to look for a snack.

What’s more, eggs are super susceptible to absorbing odors from other foods, which is why you should either keep them in the container they came in, or transfer them to an airtight one; avoid open-format containers where they would be exposed to the air circulating in the fridge. Whether you keep them in their original container or otherwise, keep them on the bottom shelf toward the back of the fridge. That way, they’ll be in the coldest section of the fridge while also away from other foods. If you break an egg, it will create less of a mess over multiple shelves if it’s on the very bottom rack.

How can I tell if eggs are good or bad?

After you crack open an egg, there are several signs of freshness:

  • Thick whites that don’t significantly spread
  • A mild smell (“an old egg will smell like damp grass or straw,” according to The Joy of Cooking
  • A tall, domed yolk
  • Noticeable chalazae (those opaque white cords that help anchor the yolk)

If you don’t want to crack open the egg, you can always try the famous float test. Which brings us to our next question...

Is the egg float test a myth?

Nope! It’s an easy, reliable method that’s been around for hundreds of years (English cookbook author Hannah Glasse wrote about it in 1750!). Here’s the gist: If the egg sinks, it’s good, and if the egg floats, it’s bad. But why?

“The egg as a whole loses moisture through its porous shell, so the contents of the egg shrink, and the air cell at the wide end expands,” writes Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking. “As an egg ages and its air cell expands, it gets progressively less dense.” Which means if an egg is able to float in water, it’s old as heck, and you should toss it in the trash (or recycle those shells!).

There’s blood in my egg! That’s bad, right?

Actually, it’s fine (creepy but fine). A blood spot on an egg yolk isn’t a sign of spoilage, and it isn’t unsafe to eat—it’s just a burst vein. The older an egg gets, the less noticeable the spot will be, so if it’s very noticeable, that’s another way to rest assured that the egg is fresh. Of course, if the blood spot grosses you out, you can try to remove it with a paring knife or chopstick. Just keep in mind that the yolk might break. Not a problem if you’re making scrambled eggs, but you might want to pass on this method if you’re making fried eggs or poached eggs.

How can I tell if a hard-boiled egg is bad?

Hard-boiling a bunch of eggs and storing them in the fridge is an A+ way to get ahead on meal prep (go you!). But like raw eggs, they won’t stay good forever. After hard-boiling, eggs will keep in the fridge for up to one week. Store in an airtight container, so they don’t absorb other odors. The same goes for soft-boiled or medium-boiled eggs too, but know that these are more delicate and more susceptible to foodborne bacteria growth, so remember to keep them tucked away in the back of the refrigerator (just don’t forget about them!).

This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors, and Food52 may earn an affiliate commission. What are your tricks for figuring out whether an egg is good or bad? Discuss in the comment section below!

What's your preferred way to store eggs? Let us know in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in November 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

14 Comments

jahne April 21, 2022
I hard boil my eggs with red onions skins. They are called MOROCCAN EGGS. My mum used this method and the egg shells turn a gorgeous mahogany colour and are supposed to last for months. Eight eggs and the outer skins from about 6 red onions. Just cover with water, and simmer for a few HOURS. The yolks become beautifully creamy, and theoretically the eggs last for months. Mum used to do many eggs at a time in the winter - I just do 8 to 12.
 
Smaug March 3, 2022
Keep in mind that an egg is intended as an environment for an embryo to grow in- they are not easily contaminated.
 
tia August 19, 2019
I think it would be useful to define what "good" and "bad" mean here. I don't think we're talking about food-borne illness at all, more a flavor and quality type of good/bad. Knowing something might not taste its best is different than thinking it will make you sick.
 
Sue G. August 18, 2019
...and do not put egg shells down the disposal!
 
Smaug March 3, 2022
I compost them myself, and I don't much like the idea of garbage disposals in general, but why not egg shells?
 
jlw August 16, 2019
Any thoughts or facts of boiled eggs, peeled and packed in a clear plastic bag at the grocers? The date is usually quite extended. I am reluctant to purchase this type egg.
 
JTJ August 16, 2019
In my experience they tend to have lots of preservatives and taste a bit rubbery.
 
Lulu1955 August 13, 2019
In the early 1960’s, my Great Aunt Ina, showed me the float test on eggs from her hens!!
 
Lulu1955 August 13, 2019
A preppers tip, coat fresh eggs in mineral oil. They will keep for weeks out of fridge, indefinitely in the fridge...
 
JTJ August 12, 2019
Equally of importance is understanding the politics of the use by date. In Arizona, the use by date is set by legislation. Use by dates have always been short to protect local growers. However, strong lobbying by out-of-state producers resulted in the use by dates doubling on some grades; the packing dates didn’t change; however we most often try to purchase what we think are the freshest eggs; those that have a use by date further out.
 
Lune August 12, 2019
I use the "sink or float" method so I know before I use the egg. Most are good way beyond the date on the packaging.
 
Nicki H. August 12, 2019
I've eaten eggs 4+ months after the "expiration" date listed on the carton with no problem - usually in baked goods. Basically if they don't smell either before or after I crack them, I assume they'll be fine.
 
KLS March 8, 2022
Exactly! Properly stored, they will last at least that long. I'm thinking I may have had them up to 6 months.
I don't look at the date, I don't float them, but I always have broken them into a separate dish before using, because if you have ever had a rotten egg, you know.
And, once hard boiled, they do spoil, one week max
 
elizole July 1, 2022
Thanks for this! It's super helpful.