How to Tell if Your 'Expired' Eggs Are Still Good to Eat

A lot of people rely on the date on the packaging to tell them when food has gone bad, even with eggs, but the "sell by" dates are often rather arbitrary, and do not correlate to expiration dates. If you've been tossing away your eggs based on the dates on your carton—you're wrong.

Your eyes and nose are the best tools for determining freshness with meats, produce and herbs, but you can't really use your senses to test an egg before you crack it (unless you're highly skilled).

Image via Shutterstock

Eggs are often still good to eat long after the date on the packaging says to throw them out. If you want to test how fresh they are before finding out the hard way, here are a few methods for testing them.

The Best Method for Uncracked Eggs: The Float Test

Just fill a bowl with cold water and place your eggs in the bowl. If they sink to the bottom and lay flat on their sides, they're very fresh. If they're a few weeks old but still good to eat, they'll stand on one end at the bottom of the bowl. If they float to the surface, they're no longer fresh enough to eat.

While you could fry or scramble an egg that's on its side or standing upright, when it comes to hard-boiling, you'll want the upright ones, as Yumi points out in her guide to peeling hard-boiled eggs.

Image by Yumi Sakugawa/WonderHowTo

Below, you can see what a really bad egg looks like in comparison to really fresh one. The one on the left is most likely 3 or more months old (from when it was laid, not the date you actually bought them).

Image via Sturgis

To give you an idea of hold old an egg actually is, look at the "packed by" dates on the carton, which are in Julian date form by the "sell by" dates. Julian dates range from 1 to 365 days, and since most companies pack their eggs shortly after they're laid, it's a good indicator.

Image via FDA

Why the Float Test Works So Well

The reason this method works is because the eggshells are porous, which means they allow some air to get through. Fresh eggs have less air in them, so they sink to the bottom. But older eggs have had more time for the air to penetrate the shells, so they're more buoyant and will float.

Other Ways to Test Uncracked Eggs

Some people also claim you can hold an egg up to your ear and shake it to test for freshness. If you can hear a sloshing sound inside the egg, it's probably gone bad, but if you hear nothing, it's fine to eat. Personally, though, I don't think this method is as reliable.

Additionally, there is the candling method, which is used primarily for testing egg quality before putting eggs on the market, but it could help determine freshness too, though it's more difficult to see at later stages. Some just put a flashlight right next to the eggshell to light up the insides, but historically, a piece of cardboard with a small hole in it was used, with a light source behind it and the egg in front.

Image via Woman's Institute Library of Cooking (1918)

The above method will let you see the air space and mold, but it's really a difficult technique to get down.

Image via Woman's Institute Library of Cooking (1918)

Above you can see a fresh egg (little air space, slightly visible yolk), a slightly old egg (larger air space, slightly darker yolk), a nearly bad egg (really dark yolk, spotty), and a spoiled egg (mixed in yolk, lots of dark) using the candling technique.

The Best Method for Cracked Eggs: The Plate & Sniff Test

If you don't need the shell intact, you can also crack the egg onto a plate or other flat surface to test how fresh it is. If it's fresh, the yolk should be bright yellow or orange and the white shouldn't spread much. If you're not sure, give it a good sniff: fresh eggs shouldn't have much of a smell at all.

Image via Rouxbe

If the egg is older, the yolk will be flatter and the white will be much more runny. An egg that spreads out when cracked isn't necessarily bad, though, just older (and again, good for hard-boiled eggs). If it's gone bad, you probably won't even need to do the sniff test—even slightly rotten eggs will have a very strong, distinct smell you'll notice right away.

What to Do with Eggs That Expire Soon

Got a bunch of eggs that are going to go bad before you can use them? Hard-boil them and throw them in a jar with a beet brine to make tangy, delicious, and beautifully purple pickled eggs.

Image by Yumi Sakugawa/WonderHowTo

There are also lots of things you can do with those discarded eggshells, like make your teapot super clean, fertilize soil, and make sidewalk chalk. And don't forget about those leftover egg cartons, which make good seed and fire starters, bird feeders, and candle-making molds.

Do you know of any other ways to test whether or not an egg is good to eat? Share your method with us in the comments.

Cover image via Our Little Coop

9 Comments

Seems obvious now I've looked it up, that the julian date just represents any day of the year - Jan 1st = 001 etc...but apparently I didn't get that and had to look it up, so I figured I'd put it here!

By all means, these methods are spot on! I also recommend visiting the farm where you buy your eggs and other meats and produce. If the seller welcomes the request for a visit, they are more-than-likely running a clean operation, if "No, I'd rather not"...blah blah, blah ,any number of reasons, MOVE ON!

This year I took our youngest grandson to an Amish farm in KY. He told me that it was a good place to do business because the cat didn't eat the chickens, and the pigs were clean! Gotta' love that.

On a HOTTER note, hemorrhoid cream is my miracle salve for accidental Jalapeno or Habanero splatters! Keep some on "hand" (and wrists) when processing this year.*

cool. i did not know bout julian date

This article was informative and it brought back good memories. I remember candling eggs and doing the float test on them when I was a child. At the time, we were living on a farm near Maryville, Tennessee. That was in 1955, and we were staying there while waiting to join my father in Saigon. He was one of the first two American advisers to go to Vietnam. The family who owned the farm was the Pritchard family. When I was a young teenager, we lived in a chateau in the Loire valley outside of Orleans, France. There was a farm on the outside walls of the chateau and we used to collect the eggs we would find in the nooks and crannies around the yard (laid by the free ranging ducks, chickens and Guinea hens from next door). Some we immediately knew were bad by the smell test. LOL

Very in-depth, only fresh eggs for me now!

In the pictures, the floating egg is on it's side. What if the egg floats point down?

If you see the illustration above that, you'll see that an upright egg is perfect for hard-boiling. I assume that it doesn't matter which end is touching the bottom. Could be wrong though.

Good article. Thanks.

A bit of trivia about the Julian Date: it is actually the number of days since January 1, 4713 BC. It's handy for astronomers since the sky changes from year to year. (Also, interestingly, the Julian day changes at noon.) If you want to specify the number of days since January 1st of the current year, just say "day-of-year."

Excellent, never knew that so much research is done on expiry of eggs.

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