Eggs are a staple food in households around the world.
They’re a nutritious and affordable source of protein. Plus, they make a quick meal any time of day, so it’s no wonder people like to keep eggs on hand.
However, if you’ve ever left a carton of eggs sitting in the fridge for a few weeks, you may have wondered whether they were still safe to eat.
Egg cartons often have a date printed on them, such as a “best before” or “sell by” date. These dates make it easier to know how old the eggs are.
But if you store them properly, eggs can last far beyond their expiration date and still be safe to eat.
So the short answer is yes, it can be safe to eat expired eggs.
On the other hand, eggs that have been contaminated or stored improperly can spoil and contain harmful bacteria. Thus, it’s important to know the difference between eggs that are expired but safe and eggs that are spoiled.
This article explains when it’s safe to eat expired eggs and how to store your eggs for maximum freshness.
How long do eggs last?
In-shell eggs that have been washed and stored in the refrigerator stay fresh for an average of 3–5 weeks.
Compared with other perishable proteins, eggs have a notably longer shelf life. Once they’ve been opened, most milk and meats stay fresh in the refrigerator for only 1 week at most.
Still, when you buy eggs at the store, it can be hard to know how long they’ve been sitting on the shelf and how much longer they’ll remain fresh once you bring them home.
This is where date labels printed on egg cartons come in handy. Date labels help you determine how long your eggs will stay fresh and safe to eat.
Eggs are often labeled with the date they were processed and packed or the expiration date, though some eggs may not have any date labels at all, depending on the source and the regulations in your area.
Here are a few of the most common date labels on egg cartons in the United States:
- Best by. The eggs will be at peak quality and flavor if you eat them before this date, which is set by the manufacturer. As long as the eggs don’t show signs of spoilage, they can still be sold and are considered safe to eat after this date.
- Sell by. This date can be no more than 30 days after the pack date of the eggs. At the sell-by date, the eggs may be around 4 weeks old.
- EXP. Shorthand for “expiration,” this is another way to label a “sell-by” date.
- Pack date. This notes the day the eggs were processed and packed into the carton. It’s displayed as a three-digit number from 1 to 365. This method numbers the days of the year consecutively, so January 1 is 001, January 2 is 002, December 31 is 365, and so on.
With proper storage, eggs typically stay fresh 3–5 weeks past the pack date — the date they were gathered, cleaned, and stored in refrigeration.
After 5 weeks, your eggs might start to decline in freshness. They could lose flavor and color, and the texture might even be somewhat altered. As the weeks go on, eggs will continue to diminish in quality even if you refrigerate them.
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As long as they remain free of contamination from bacteria or mold, they may still be safe to eat for days or weeks longer.
Summary: Eggs have an average shelf life of 3–5 weeks. With proper storage, most eggs are still safe to eat after 5 weeks, though their quality and freshness will likely begin to decline.
The risks of eating expired eggs
A quick note: Eating expired eggs may be no cause for concern at all. As long as they’ve been processed, stored, and cooked properly, you likely won’t notice any difference after eating eggs that are a few days or weeks past their expiration date. On the other hand, if an egg has spoiled or been contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella, eating it could have dangerous consequences.
Eggs are a notoriously high-risk food for the growth of Salmonella, a type of bacteria that lives in and affect the digestive tracts of animals and humans.
Salmonella bacteria are one of the most common causes of foodborne illness, causing side effects like fever, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
It’s possible that Salmonella could be present on the inside or outside of eggs when you buy them. The bacteria could also continue to multiply even while eggs are in the refrigerator.
This means that even if you’re doing everything right when it comes to storing fresh eggs, there may still be a small chance you could get sick from Salmonella.
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The best way to avoid contracting a foodborne illness from a contaminated egg is to always cook your eggs to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71°C).
No kitchen thermometer on hand? Not to worry — just be sure to cook your eggs until the yolks are firm and the whites are no longer runny or translucent.
Who should avoid expired eggs?
Some groups of people may be more susceptible than others to getting sick from eggs.
Because young children, older adults, and people with ongoing illnesses are at a higher risk of contracting Salmonella, it may be best for them to avoid expired, spoiled, and raw eggs altogether.
Most people recover from Salmonella infections, and their symptoms subside after only a few days. However, in high-risk populations, the illness is more concerning because it can cause life-threatening complications that require hospitalization.
Summary: Eggs that are expired but not spoiled may still be perfectly fine to eat. However, eating old eggs that have been damaged or contaminated puts you at risk of getting sick from contracting the foodborne bacterium Salmonella.
How to tell when eggs have spoiled
Just because an egg has passed the date label shown on its carton, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has gone bad.
Nevertheless, the expiration date is one practical tool you can use to determine whether eggs have spoiled.
If the eggs are still within a few days or weeks of the expiration date and you’ve been storing them safely in the refrigerator, chances are they haven’t gone bad — though they may have begun to decline in quality.
If the eggs are well past the expiration date on the carton, you probably need to assess them further before deciding if they’re still safe to eat.
Here are a few simple ways to decide if eggs have spoiled:
- Smell them. Cooked or raw, a spoiled egg will likely give off a strong, foul odor. In some cases, you may be able to smell a rotten egg through its shell, but the smell will be noticeable once you crack the egg open.
- Look them over, inside and out. An egg that is safe to eat should not have any cracks or slime on its shell, signs of mold, or obvious discoloration to the yolk or white.
- Go with your gut. As the saying goes, “When in doubt, throw it out.” If a gut feeling tells you that your eggs have started to spoil, it’s best not to eat them.
Summary: Some signs that eggs have spoiled are a strong or foul odor coming from the inside or outside, slime or mold growing on the shell, and discolored whites or yolks.
Tips to store eggs for freshness
Though eggs won’t last forever, proper cleaning and storage can keep them safe and fresh for a surprisingly long time. These methods also help prevent the growth of bacteria.
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Here are a few things to consider when you’re storing eggs for safety and long shelf life:
1. Know if your eggs are washed
Many people store their eggs in the refrigerator, though you might also have heard that farm-fresh eggs can be stored right on your countertop instead.
Eggs can indeed be stored safely on the countertop for a short period — as long as they’re unwashed and kept at a stable room temperature.
Once an egg has been washed, it’s more likely to transfer bacteria like Salmonella from the outside of the shell to the inside.
Thus, only eggs that have not been washed can safely be stored on the countertop.
Even then, higher temperatures and temperature fluctuations may make eggs spoil and decline in quality sooner than eggs kept in the refrigerator.
2. Keep your eggs refrigerated
The best way to store eggs is in a refrigerator set to about 40°F (4–5°C). Experts don’t recommend freezing eggs that are in the shell because the contents inside are likely to expand and damage the shell.
A few lab studies also suggest that cooler temperatures and refrigeration significantly reduce the chance of an egg becoming contaminated with Salmonella.
For this reason, agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States recommend staying away from unrefrigerated eggs completely.
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If you can, avoid keeping eggs in the door of the fridge and instead place them on a shelf in the main area of the fridge. The door is often the warmest spot since it’s exposed to the open air most frequently.
While your eggs are in the fridge, don’t place anything heavy on top of them that could damage the shells, and keep them away from raw meat to avoid the spread of bacteria.
Scientists continue to explore new ways to keep eggs free of Salmonella and other bacteria, such as coating eggs in plant-based biofilms that help keep bacteria out.
However, the best way to store eggs for safety and freshness may simply be to keep them in the refrigerator.
3. Choose pasteurized eggs if you’re at a higher risk
During processing, pasteurized eggs are heated in enough warm water to kill bacteria on the outside of the shell without cooking the egg inside. Therefore, they may be less likely to contain Salmonella or other bacteria.
Pasteurized eggs are a good choice for people who are at higher risk.
Especially if you’re sick, pregnant, a child, or an older adult with a compromised immune system, sticking with pasteurized eggs is a good idea to help avoid contracting a foodborne illness.
Pasteurized eggs are also useful in recipes that call for raw eggs, such as Caesar dressing or hollandaise sauce.
Summary: It’s best to store eggs on a refrigerator shelf, preferably away from the door, and to keep them away from any raw meat.
One of the many benefits of eggs is that they last a long time.
By storing them in the refrigerator, you can keep your eggs safe and fresh for many weeks.
Still, eggs can spoil under certain conditions, and any egg — refrigerated or not — has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, so it’s best to thoroughly cook your eggs before eating them.
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