Eggs — How to keep them fresh and how to tell when they’re not

Ever wonder if an egg you grab out of the refrigerator is still good? How much do you know about egg storage?

Most of us (vegans excepted) usually have a carton of eggs in the house. In some homes, eggs are staples — used for classic breakfasts, quick or fancy dinners, and baking. At our house, we don’t use many (except for decorating at Easter time!), so I’m often wondering if they’re fresh enough. And, since we buy them by the dozen, I also want to know how to keep them fresh for as long as possible.

Here’s some useful info about egg storage!

Storage dos and don’ts:

eggs stored in ceramic white container next to a kitchen whisk

• Don’t store eggs on the refrigerator door. The door temp isn’t as consistent as the temp inside the refrigerator. The temp in the main part of the refrigerator should be 40 degrees F or less, just what eggs need. 

• While they look pretty in baskets and other containers, and they’re handy when placed in the egg storage inserts that come with refrigerators, it’s best to store eggs in their original carton. The carton will protect them both from breaking and from absorbing odors. Egg shells are pretty thin. And because commercial eggs are sanitized before being sold, their protective oils are removed, making them more porous. (The carton also has a “sell by” date on it that comes in handy!) 

• Store egg cartons away from strong-smelling foods. Even with the protective carton, some odors can penetrate. 

• When in the carton, situate eggs rounded side up, pointed side down. (Did you know this? Looks upside-down!) This will keep the yolk closer to the center of the egg and help your eggs stay fresher longer. 

• To store whole eggs, take them out of their shells and place in a tightly covered container. 

• If storing only egg yolks (you just whipped up some whites and are saving the nutritious yolks for a sauce or homemade mayo or creme brulee), keep them from drying out by covering them in water in a tightly covered container. Drain the water before using. 

Egg Q&A

How long will eggs last?

Whole uncooked eggs in shell: 4 to 5 weeks past the “Julian date” (the date they were packed; see below)

Whole eggs, raw (out of shell): up to 2 days

Egg whites, raw: up to 4 days

Egg yolks, raw: up to 2 days

Hard-boiled eggs in shell: up to 1 week

Hard-boiled eggs peeled: Use the same day

Can I freeze eggs?

Yes, you can freeze eggs up to a year! Take them out of their shells, beat lightly, and place them in freezer containers. Seal, label, and freeze. To defrost, place the container in the refrigerator overnight. (Never defrost them out on the counter.)

If you’re freezing just egg yolks, beat in salt or sugar before freezing. For salt, use 1/8 teaspoon. For sugar, use 1 ½ teaspoons. 

Why do eggs need refrigeration?

Commercial egg farms in the United States are required to wash and immediately refrigerate eggs to prevent salmonella contamination. Once they’re refrigerated, they need to stay refrigerated. Otherwise the cool egg can sweat at room temp, possibly promoting the growth of bacteria. Don’t leave eggs out for more than two hours. 

Refrigeration also helps to maintain the quality of the eggs; eggs stored at room temperature degrade over time. Here’s some background from the USDA.

It’s true that in England and parts of Europe, you’ll often find eggs not refrigerated. That’s because they’re not washed and refrigerated before selling. Instead, they vaccinate the hens to prevent salmonella. 

If you gather your eggs from your own chickens, don’t wash them before you’re ready to use them. The covering (called bloom) will protect them from bacteria and keep them fresh longer. It’s still a good idea to put them in the refrigerator, though.

natural white, brown, and green eggs stored in cardboard egg carton

What’s the difference between white eggs and brown eggs?

Different color eggs come from different breeds of chicken. Of course, you can get eggs in a range of colors from white to tan to brown to dark brown. And you can get blue and green eggs, too — all from different breeds. (I love all those beautiful, subtle, earthy tones!) Learn which breeds produce which eggs from this chart.

Are brown eggs better for you than white eggs?

Brown and white eggs have the same nutritional value. Brown eggs are usually more expensive because chickens that lay brown eggs are larger and need more feed. Their eggs are usually bigger, too.

What’s that three-digit number on some egg cartons?

That’s the “Julian date.” It tells the day the eggs were washed and packaged. 001 means the eggs were prepared on January 1, and 365 means the eggs were prepared on December 31.

Learn more about egg storage from the Egg Safety Center

How can I tell if an egg is fresh enough to eat?

Rather than breaking it open (which will only tell you if an egg is really rotten — and it won’t be pleasant), do a water test. It’s easy and will tell you how fresh or how past its prime the egg is. Simply place the egg in a little bowl of water. Then examine it:

• If the egg floats, it’s not good. Don’t eat it. 

• If the egg lies horizontally at the bottom of the bowl, it’s very fresh.

• If the narrow end of the egg tilts up, it’s fine to eat but not perfectly fresh. 

• If the egg stands straight up on the bottom of the bowl, it’s also safe to eat, but you might want to enlist it for baking or hard-boiling, because it’s not at its best. 

Curious why this water test works? Well, the liquid in an egg evaporates over time. (It’s porous, remember?) Fresher eggs will sink because they have the most liquid in them and are heavier, while the lightest eggs have the least liquid remaining inside and will float to the top.

Is it safe to eat an egg with a blood spot?

Ugh, it’s no fun to find one, but yes, it’s perfectly safe to eat an egg with a blood spot. It happens when a blood vessel ruptures as the egg is formed. Remove it if you like, but it’s not necessary for safety. 

white and peach colored eggs arranged in a circle

Read about Humane Certifications (“cage-free,” “free-range,” “pasture-raised,” and “certified organic”) on the Humane Society page on deciphering egg carton labels.

What can I do with eggshells?

Eggshells make a terrific plant fertilizer, so spread them in your garden. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants especially benefit from the calcium in eggshells. Sprinkle them in the holes before planting, and spread them around plants throughout the growing season, about every couple of weeks. Eggshells also deter some pests and cats. And they are a good addition to a compost pile. 

What are egg weights?

Eggs are classified according to their weights, specified by the USDA: Jumbo, Extra Large, Large, Medium, Small, and Peewee.

They’re also graded according to the interior and exterior quality of the egg and eggshell. The highest rating is AA, followed by A, and then B. According to the USDA, which provides the grading guidelines:

• Grade AA eggs have thick, firm whites; high, round yolks; and clean, unbroken shells.

• Grade A eggs are the same as AA eggs but with whites that are just “reasonably” firm.

• Grade B eggs may have some staining, ridges, thin spots, or rough areas, and they may be misshapen. 

No need to be snobby. All grades are perfectly fine to eat. 

What’s your favorite way to eat eggs? Does your family color eggs at Easter? Do you have any egg storage tips to share?

You might also like: Salad greens — How to make them last and How to store cheese.

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Tip Sheet for Storing Produce

Tip Sheet for Storing Produce