The fresher the egg, the milkier-looking the egg white, which becomes more clear and runny as the egg ages. Smaller eggs tend to hold together better and the yolks don’t stream in a frying pan.
The fresher the egg, the more difficult it is to peel because the two layers of membrane are more tightly adhered and the air pocket inside the egg chamber is smaller. Eggshells are porous, and thin with age. As an egg ages, the eggshell and membranes thin out, and absorb more air. That’s why it is recommended to use older eggs for hardboiling and peeling.
Egg yolks have remained the same size or slightly smaller over the years, while the egg white size has increased.
Hardboiled eggs will remain safe about 2 hours at room temperature; less in extreme heat, and up to a week in the fridge if the shells aren’t broken. Refrigerated deviled eggs or egg salad remain edible about 4 days.
Always store the eggs in their original carton; do not wash them prior to storage. Refrigerate in cold part of the fridge, not on the door.
Fridge storage is mandatory in the U.S. for commercially packaged raw eggs. Refrigeration extends shelf life and retards contamination by salmonella bacteria, which multiply rapidly at higher temperatures. American egg farmers, unlike their UK counterparts, are not required to vaccinate their chickens against salmonella, which can contaminate the egg from external sources, or from the inside during creation by an infected mother hen.
Do not re-refrigerate raw eggs removed from the fridge and brought up to room temperature. Never refrigerate hardboiled eggs in the original egg carton.
Casseroles containing eggs should be cooked to 160˚F. Never consume partially cooked or undercooked eggs. Bacteria love the egg yolk.
A folklore test for freshness is to place a raw egg in a bowl of water. Fresh eggs will remain completely submerged at the bottom. The older the egg, the more it floats. A complete floater is no good. However, sometimes a partial floater will be nest-fresh, and sometimes a completely rotten egg will fail to float. It’s always best to know date and origin!
Classifications of eggs and egg codes on cartons
American eggs sold to consumers are graded as AA, A, or B Quality. There is no difference in nutritive value among the three grades. Few Grade B eggs reach the supermarkets. Although just as wholesome as AA and A, their appearance is distracting; most are sold to institutional egg users. A single carton may contain both AA and A grades.
American standards, grades and weight classes for eggs are regulated by the USDA, and printed in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) as 7 CFR Part 56. Check it out online at www.ams.usda.gov/poultry/regulations .
According to the USDA, many eggs reach stores only a few days after the hens lay them. Cartons bearing the USDA grade shield must display “pack date” – the day the eggs were washed, graded and placed in the carton. The three-digit number code represents the consecutive day of the year, ; for example, January 1 is 001, and December 31 is 365.
“Sell-by” or “Best by” dates on cartons are required by the USDA to not exceed 45 days from the date of the eggs being packed. Eggs generally remain good after the sell-by date. In fact, the eggs may remain viable for weeks after the sell-by date if stored and handled properly.
Many egg-packaging plants are governed by state laws rather than USDA inspection regulations. Most states require a pack-by date.
The location where eggs are packed will be marked on USDA-inspected eggs. The number will be preceded by a P.
Egg Carton Labeling Terms
Certified-Humane: Uncaged inside barns, but may be kept indoors at all times. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes.
Certified-Organic: Birds are uncaged inside barns, required to have outdoor access (undefined) , and fed organic, all vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides.
Free Roaming: Also known as free-range; basically infers the hens are not caged but without standards or third-party auditing, unlike “free-range.”
Free-Range: Uncaged inside barns, with some degree of outdoor access, but with no requirements defined, and with no restrictions on what they may be fed.
Natural: Meaningless term, according to the Humane Society and Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply.
No Hormones: It’s illegal to give hormones to poultry in the United States. The label is superfluous.
Omega-3 Enriched: Feed is supplemented probably with flaxseed.
Pasture-raised: Life spent outdoors, able to supplement corn feed with worms and insects and grass.
Vegetarian Diet: Confusing term that implies benefit, yet chickens are omnivores under natural conditions, consuming a diet rich in worms and insects.
For great egg recipes from Laurie Triplette, click here.
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.