This Is the Only No-Fail Way to Tell If an Egg Is Bad

Because who knows how long it's been in the fridge?

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Have you ever wondered how long that carton of eggs can last in your refrigerator? Weeks, months, maybe years?! (Okay, maybe not years...) Here's everything you need to make sure your eggs are still fresh and high quality no matter how long you've had them.

Signs of a Spoiled Egg

The best way to determine if your egg is spoiled is by cracking it open into a bowl. If the egg white is pink or iridescent this is an indication of spoilage due to Pseudomonas bacteria. Some of these bacteria can make us sick when eaten and they will produce a greenish, fluorescent, water-soluble color. Also, a spoiled egg (cooked or raw) will have an unpleasant odor once you crack it open.

Per the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), an egg can float in the water when the air cell has enlarged just enough to keep it bouyant. This means the egg is old, but it may be absolutely safe to eat. To check if it is safe to eat, crack the egg in a bowl and check for an off-odor or unusual appearance before determining whether to use or discard. A spoiled egg has a terribly unpleasant odor when you crack it open — whether raw or cook.

How to Keep Eggs from Spoiling

It is important to always remember that eggs are a raw agricultural commodity. According to Deana R. Jones, PhD, Deana R Jones, PhD, a research food technologist at the U.S. National Poultry Research Center, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit, “Safe handling practices, refrigeration, hand washing, and care to prevent cross-contamination are always advised – as with any raw agricultural commodity.” She recommends that eggs be continuously stored in the refrigerator at 45 degrees F or below.

Eggs should also be stored in their original carton on a shelf in the refrigerator and not in the door. “Cartons are designed to prevent breakage, as well as insulate the egg to reduce temperature changes,” explains Jones. Also, minimizing how many times you open and close that refrigerator can help minimize spoilage. Every time the door of the refrigerator is opened the refrigerator experiences temperature changes. So know what you are looking for before you open it!

But it’s not just about refrigerating eggs, where you purchase your eggs from and the steps you take until you cook with it are just as important.

Where to Buy Your Eggs

To help ensure the safety of your eggs, always purchase eggs from a refrigerated case. Select eggs with clean, uncracked shells. Look for the USDA-grade shield or mark. Grading eggs is mandatory and eggs must meet standards for quality and size (like large, extra-large, and jumbo). The “Use by,” “Use before,” or “Best before” date indicates a period that the eggs should be consumed before overall quality diminishes.

Once you purchase your eggs, do not let them sit in a hot car for too long. At room temperature, do not leave them out over two hours and if the temperature is sweltering hot (90 degrees F or higher) then no more than one hour. Once you get home, store your eggs immediately in the refrigerator.

Why Do We Refrigerate Eggs?

If you have visited other countries, not all countries keep eggs in the refrigerator — so why should we? Where you store your eggs depends on where they’re produced. In the early 1970's there was concern about food spoilage and foodborne illness. As such, U.S. egg producers began washing and refrigerating their eggs. Other countries like Canada, Japan and Scandinavia began to do the same thing. However, the European Union doesn’t wash or refrigerate their eggs. As such, they are kept at room temperature at home and in stores. Washing eggs removes a thin, protective “cuticle” or membrane that prevents Salmonella and other bacteria from penetrating into the shell. The argument is that washing the eggs washes away the cuticle, which then makes refrigeration necessary to prevent foodborne illness.

At home, it is not recommended to wash your eggs before storing or before using. The wash water can seep into the egg through the pores in the shell and lead to contamination. As per government regulations, USDA graded eggs are carefully washed and sanitized using compounds that meet FDA regulations.

How to Prepare Your Eggs Safely

There are other simple steps you can take to ensure that your eggs are safe to eat. These include:

  • Wash any utensils, equipment and work areas with hot, soapy water before and after in contact with eggs.
  • Do not keep eggs outside the refrigerator for more than two hours. If a recipe calls for eggs at room temperature than they should sit out a max of two hours.
  • Raw eggs and other ingredients should be combined according to the recipe directions and cooked immediately or refrigerated and cooked within 24 hours.
  • Always cook eggs until both the white and yolk are firm. The only exception is with pasteurized eggs.
  • Cook casseroles and other dishes containing eggs to a minimum internal cooking temperature of 160 degrees F. Use a food thermometer to make sure this temperature is met.
  • Serve cooked eggs and egg dishes immediately after cooking, or place them in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerate quickly for later use.
  • Any leftover cooked eggs or egg dish should be used within three to four days.

Bottom Line

There are many options for consumers when purchasing eggs. Regardless of the type of eggs purchased, eggs are affordable, functional, and nutrient dense. Following simple food safety guidelines can help ensure the quality and safety of your eggs.

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