Ask the RD
Question: I have a couple of questions regarding eggs. Specifically, what is the best way to store them, and how long do I have
to consume them? My understanding is that the date stamped on the egg carton is the sell-by date, and I have about a week or so after that date to consume the eggs. My sister believes the date is an expiration date and says the eggs should not be eaten after that day. Also, my husband, who grew up in Europe, feels it’s okay to store eggs on the kitchen counter, and I’m not sure that is safe. Can you clarify these issues?
Answer: Certainly. Let’s start with the storage issue.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, eggs should be stored in the refrigerator to reduce the risk of salmonella infection. Salmonella can get into an egg in two ways—from outside the egg, as a result of contact with organic matter, such as chicken manure; or from within the egg, as a result of the hen passing along the infection. In either case, it is impossible to tell by just looking at an egg whether it is infected with salmonella or not. But if it is infected, the number of bacteria present will multiply rapidly when the egg is kept at room temperature. Therefore, the CDC recommends that eggs be stored in the refrigerator.
Europeans take a different approach. Instead of commercially washing eggs soon after they are laid, as we do in the U.S., egg producers in Europe vaccinate laying hens to prevent the transmission of salmonella. European producers also believe that the thin, naturally occurring coating that forms around eggshells guards against contamination—another reason for not washing eggs. This outer coating is believed to be so beneficial that health authorities actually discourage refrigeration, since they think it does away with it.
WHEN TO CONSUME EGGS
If stored properly in the refrigerator, eggs can be used well after the date stamped on the side of the carton. The stamp has nothing to do with food safety but is rather a guide to alert stores to the sell-by date. Eggs should last about a month after this date if they have been kept refrigerated in their original carton. After that, the moisture within the eggs may begin to evaporate, causing the egg yolk to shrivel and the white to become watery, but they will still be safe to eat.
OTHER TIPS ON PREVENTING SALMONELLA INFECTION FROM EGGS
- Discard cracked or broken eggs.
- Cook eggs thoroughly until the yolk
and egg are firm.
- Avoid consuming raw or undercooked
eggs; this applies especially to young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.