Food Label Dates: Cracking down on egg freshness
In our previous Food Label Dates posts, we talked about some terminology used on the food packaging. But what about eggs? Besides all the different sizes and varieties of eggs, how long do eggs keep their peak freshness?
When I’m at the store and see someone standing in front of the egg area, I often notice that people are focused on whether all the eggs are in perfect condition and that none are broken. I’ve witnessed time and again that people open a carton of eggs, remove eggs and swap in others from another carton. It’s like a game of musical chairs, with eggs.
Stop the music.
Yes, it’s good to purchase a carton with all unbroken eggs. But, do you know whether those unbroken eggs are fresh?
Eggs are dated for freshness. Yes, that’s right. If you look on the side of your egg carton, you’ll see a date that tells you when the eggs were packed. And, if you bought a carton without playing musical chairs for eggs, all the eggs in that carton will have been packed the same day.
Otherwise, you’re mixing eggs of different ages and, tied to that, freshness levels.
So what’s the story with eggs? Many eggs reach the store just a few days after the hen has laid them. Egg cartons with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grade shield on them must display the “pack date.” This is the date when the eggs were washed, graded and placed into the carton.
Egg cartons also have a “sell by” or “expiration date,” usually located on the side. Remember from our last post, the sell-by date is the last day the store can sell the eggs as fresh.
But you also will see on egg cartons that eggs are graded for quality by USDA, as AA, A or B (learn more at www.ams.usda.gov/grades-standards/shell-egg-grades-and-standards). For AA-graded eggs, the sell-by date cannot be more than 30 days from when the eggs were packed into the carton.
Now that we know what to look for on an egg carton, you’ll want to get rid of the carton. That is, eggs you bring home from the store should be stored in an egg bin or some other container which will allow for good air circulation around the eggs, to help maintain freshness. Make sure to put the new eggs on the bottom of the bin, with older eggs on top. And everything goes in the refrigerator, where they can remain safe for 3 to 5 weeks if your refrigerator is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.
In our next (and last) post, we will look at what determines if or when to throw out items, and how to organize your food pantry. Find all posts in this series at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasotaco/tag/foodlabeldates/.