Egg Expiration Dates Are Not Regulated The Way You Might Have Thought They Were

The eggs in your fridge might be a lot older than you thought they were. Expiration dates on egg cartons are unregulated, and there can be weeks — even a couple of months — in between when an egg is harvested and when it has to be removed from grocery store shelves. The prospect of old eggs might sound scary, but, by learning to decode the labeling on your egg carton, you can ensure that the eggs you buy and eat are fresh and safe.

As Rheanna O’Neil Bellomo at Delish points out, Facebook has been abuzz in the last few days with a post from Fresh Eggs Daily that claims that the eggs you buy at the grocery store might be as many as 45 days old. The post reads, in part,

The US Department of Agriculture’s “Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements For Meat, Poultry, and Egg Products” states,

Notice anything missing? There’s no required expiration date! In fact, according to Delish, the FDA doesn’t require expiration dates or “best before” labels for any products except baby formula. (Some states may have laws requiring expiration dates for certain foods). When you see an expiration date on a product, it’s there because the company that made it chose to include one.

Egg cartons usually feature a bunch of numbers on them, and if you know how to read them, you can learn a lot about the actual age of the eggs you’re buying. This handy infographic from the USDA explains it:

Egg cartons usually feature two dates: The expiration date and the packaging date. This latter date signifies when the eggs were put in their carton. This date is in Julian date format, which labels days according to where they fall on an annual scale of 1 to 365. So, as the poster illustrates, a carton with “032” on it means that the eggs were packaged on the 32nd day of the year, or February 1. You can safely keep eggs in the refrigerator for four to five weeks beyond the packaging date. (If you don't automatically know how a number like "163" translates into the calendar, you can find a converter here.) (The answer is June 12).

Although the government doesn’t mandate expiration dates for eggs, the FDA and the USDA both have a lot to say about how eggs are stored and transported. Because refrigeration helps to prevent bacteria growth, the USDA requires that all eggs be moved and stored at 45 degrees F. Once eggs make it to store shelves, they must continue to be kept at that temperature. When you purchase eggs, be sure to keep them cool and safe to eat by putting them in the coldest part of your fridge.

Image: USDA