How fresh are eggs?

Many professional and home cooks believe this method is more reliable than the best-before date on the carton. This is because all eggs have a sac of air in them and the older they are, the more this expands, making it rise to the top of the water.

RELATED: Chickpea, beetroot and egg salad

What do different stages of sinking/floating indicate?

If the egg… sinks to the bottom and lays flat on its side, it’s very fresh.

If the egg… stands on one end at the bottom of the bowl, it’s less fresh but still edible (just be sure to consume within a few days).

If the egg…floats to the surface, it’s no longer fresh enough to eat.

Note: eggs that stand upright are perfect for hard-boiling as the extra air helps the shell peel off more easily. Fresh eggs, on the other hand, are best poached, fried or scrambled.

Getty

RELATED: Indonesian brown fried rice

If an egg ‘fails’ this test, can it still be eaten?

There are instances that an egg may fail the water test but still be usable. To determine if your egg is spoiled, crack it into a bowl and examine it for an unpleasant odour or unusual appearance. Rotten eggs, both raw and cooked, will smell of sulphur and may have spotty whites or yolk which could potentially make you sick if consumed.

If eggs have been stored in the fridge/at room temperature, will it change the result of the experiment?

While temperature generally won’t affect the results of the experiment, it will dictate how long the egg will stay good. A carton of eggs stored at room temperature typically lasts 45 days, although if refrigerated, it can last for up to 90 days.

Getty

Are there any other ways to test if an egg is fresh?

If you don’t have a glass of water on hand, don’t stress – you can still check for freshness. Simply hold the egg to your ear and shake it. It shouldn’t make sound, but if rotten, you’ll hear a slight sloshing noise due to the air pocket rattling around.

RELATED: Egg white omelette with kale and sweet potato

Cracking the Code on Supermarket Eggs: How Fresh Are They?

Ever wonder how old those supermarket eggs are that you just bought? Believe it or not, they could be up to two months old. How can you tell, and are they still safe to eat? We checked in with our fresh eggs expert, Lisa Steele, of Fresh Eggs Daily. Here’s what we found out:

Here’s What Fresh Eggs Daily Tells Us:

By law, an egg can be sold for up to 30 days after the date it was put in the carton. And farmers have up to 30 days to go from when the egg is laid to the carton. That means those supermarket eggs can be two months old by the time you buy them. Despite their age, however, the eggs will be fine to eat, just not as fresh, of course (and we can all agree, nothing is better than a farm-fresh egg!). You may find that the yolks won’t be quite as firm and the whites will be more runny, but from a safety standpoint, there are no dangers as long as each egg passes the smell test: if it doesn’t smell good, toss it! The reason for the runnier consistency is that more air has had the chance to seep through the pores in the shell — commercial egg processors remove the microscopic protective exterior membrane called the “bloom” which keeps bacteria out. The one plus side to an older egg? It’s easier to peel when hardboiled.

So how can you ensure your store-bought eggs are as fresh as possible?

You have to “crack” the “code.”

On each egg carton, there’s a number printed, from 1 to 365. That number represents the day of the year the carton was filled: 1 being January 1st and 365 being December 31st. Using the code, you can at least tell when the eggs were put in the carton.

For example, a carton with the code 355 means the eggs were put in the carton on the 355th day of the year, or December 11th. If the carton was purchased at the grocery store on January 8th, that means those eggs are at least 28 days old.

This carton shows the #355 under the Best By date. That number tells us a lot! Photo used with permission by Fresh Eggs Daily.

Best By, Sell By, Use By Dates

Most cartons will also include a “Best By” date and a “Sell By” date. The “Best By” or “Use By” date can’t be more than 45 days past the packaging date. The “Sell By” or “Expiration” date can’t be more than 30 days past the packaging date.

An interesting test to try to figure out the age of eggs, either store-bought or from your backyard, is to conduct the “Float Test.” Gently submerge the uncooked egg in a glass of water. A very fresh egg will lie on the bottom of a glass of water, while an older egg will start to rise up on one end, and eventually float.

The best way to get the freshest eggs possible is to get them from your own chickens or a local farm. However, if that’s not possible, remember to get in the practice of checking carton dates and codes and at least choose those eggs that are the freshest.

Are you sure you know how old those store-bought eggs are? Well, they may not be as fresh as you think. This insane fact about how old those eggs actually are has gone viral this week.

According to the Food And Drug Administration, stores can still sell food that has gone past its “best by” date (with the exception of baby formula). It’s completely up to the manufacturer whether the expired food gets pulled from store shelves or not. And that includes eggs.

This Insane Fact About Store-Bought Eggs Is Going Viral https://t.co/G57QrJY59C pic.twitter.com/qoCCvrJYrg

— House Beautiful (@HouseBeautiful) January 23, 2016

When it comes to eggs, the Food and Drug Administration requires egg manufacturers to label their products with the product name, manufacturer’s name, official identification, the manufacturer’s U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval number, an ingredients statement, a net weight statement, and finally, the product’s nutrition information.

One label you might see on your eggs is a stamp from with a number between 1 and 365 below the “best by” date. According to Cosmopolitan, this is a voluntary label that represents which day of the year those eggs were put in to their carton for sale. So, how do you tell how old those eggs in your carton are?

The website Fresh Eggs Daily recently revealed in a Facebook post that has now gone viral that those numbers under the “best by” stamp reveal the real age of those store-bought eggs. To determine how old those eggs are, simply look at the number under the “best by” stamp – that number, called the Julian Date, tells you the day of the year your eggs were laid.

For example, if that stamp is “359,” you know your eggs were laid in the 265th day of the year, or on December 25. By that logic, the eggs you buy on January 25, 2016 might be 30-days-old.

But then, they might not. According to Fresh Eggs Daily owner, Lisa Steele, although sometimes eggs are packed for consumers within one to two days after laying, but sometimes it can take a bit longer. Steele says consumers should “realize it could be up to another 30 days before the date on the carton,” and recommends buyers should “get in the practice of checking carton dates and codes and at least choose those eggs that are the freshest.”

However, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, even though they’re old eggs, they’re still likely safe to eat. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) confirms that “you can still store fresh shell eggs in their cartons in the refrigerator for four to five weeks beyond this date.”

But you should also know that because temperature is one of the most important factors to control the growth of bacteria in food, both the Food And Drug Administration and the USDA have issued laws regarding the safe handling, transport, and storage of the eggs you buy in the store. According to the Food And Drug Administration, “any types of pathogens and spoilage bacteria are prevented from multiplying in properly refrigerated foods that are not out of date.”

Currently, the Food And Drug Administration requires all shelled eggs that will eventually be sold to consumers to be stored and transported at 45 degrees. Additionally, federal regulations also require retailers, like your local grocery store, to keep those same eggs refrigerated at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

Not only that, but according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, when eggs are refrigerated at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, they should be good to eat for an additional four to five weeks beyond the date they were packed in the carton. Because of this, regardless of what the “best by” label might indicate, you probably have another week or so to use the eggs before they go bad.

What do you think? Will you start checking the Julian dates on your eggs from now on? Leave a comment below!

There’s plenty of buzz about eggs at the moment: are they healthy? How many is too many? Is the white or the yolk better? As a new study shows that an egg a day can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, the great British love affair goes from strength to strength.

In fact, eggs are at their most popular in over 40 years with record-breaking sales of over six billion in 2017, and, on average, we each eat around 190 eggs every year.

To make sure you enjoy your eggs in top condition we have this advice from the experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute…

1. How can I tell if eggs are fresh?
UK eggs have to be collected from farms at least twice a week, most of these eggs are then delivered to the supermarket within 48 hours of being laid. The best-before date on eggs must be 28 days from when the eggs were laid.

The amount of air inside an egg determines its age and quality – the more air inside, the older the egg. So, if you’re not sure if an egg has gone off, do this simple test. Place it in cold water: if it sinks to a completely horizontal position, it is fresh. If it tilts, it may be up to a week old. If it floats, it is stale and should not be used.

Already cracked open the egg and now you’re not sure it’s okay to eat? You’ll see that a fresh egg has a rounded yolk that stands proud. The white is in two distinct parts with a thick, viscous layer around the yolk and a thinner, watery outer layer. An older egg will have a flatter yolk and the egg white will become runnier.

How should I store eggs?
For optimum freshness and food safety, eggs should be kept at a constant temperature below 20°C. To avoid the typical temperature fluctuations in a household kitchen, British Lion Eggs (the safety regulator for eggs in the UK), recommends that eggs are stored in their box in the fridge.
Follow good hygiene practices in the kitchen; avoiding cross contamination, cleaning work surfaces, dishes and utensils and making sure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling eggs
Observe ‘best before’ dates.

Did you know? On average, there are 55 to 88 calories in an egg and a range of vitamins and minerals.

What does Free Range actually mean?
The EU egg marketing legislation (yes, there is egg law) stipulates that for eggs to be termed ‘free range’ hens must have continuous daytime access to runs that are mainly covered with vegetation, with a maximum of nine hens per square metre. Hens must also be provided with nest boxes, perches, and space for scratching and dust bathing.

Organic eggs are always free range. Battery cages are now banned in the EU, and there have been improvements to conditions with the introduction of raised perches and separate nest boxes – however, there seems to be little to separate ‘barn’ eggs from ‘caged’ ones.

Do you know your egg code?

Can I freeze eggs?
Eggshell can’t be frozen but raw eggs can. Freezing can affect the stability of yolks but whites freeze without issue – just be sure to fully thaw in a refrigerator before use and make sure you note the quantity of egg whites on your container before freezing. Cooked egg shouldn’t be frozen, as it turns rubbery in texture.

What’s the advice on eating runny eggs?
The Food Standards Agency’s advice has been for a long time that vulnerable groups should not consume raw or lightly cooked eggs, because eggs may contain salmonella bacteria which can cause serious illness. But this advicehas now revised to say that infants, children, pregnant women and elderly people can now safely eat raw or lightly cooked eggs that are produced under the British Lion Code of Practice and means that the eggs have been laid by hens vaccinated against salmo. More than 90% of UK eggs are produced under this scheme.

The revised FSA advice, based on the latest scientific evidence, means that people vulnerable to infection or who are likely to suffer serious symptoms from food poisoning (such as infants, children, pregnant women and elderly people) can now safely eat raw or lightly cooked hen eggs or foods containing them.
A range of interventions have been put in place across the food chain as part of the Lion scheme including: vaccinating hens, enhanced testing for salmonella, improved farm hygiene, effective rodent control, independent auditing and traceability, and keeping the eggs cool while transporting them from farm to shop.

But there are exceptions…
The revised advice does not apply to severely immunocompromised individuals, who require medically supervised diets prescribed by health professionals, and is only for eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice.
The existing advice on UK non-Lion eggs, non-hen eggs and eggs from outside the UK, is that they should always be cooked thoroughly for vulnerable groups.

How do you make the perfect hard-boiled egg?

Simple, just follow these four simple steps:
Lower the egg into a small pan of simmering water, using a spoon. Make sure there is enough water to cover the egg.
Cook for 8-10min, depending on the size of the egg.
Once cooked, drain and cool quickly under cold running water to prevent a black rim forming around the yolk.
When ready to serve, crack the shell all over and peel. (Fresh eggs are harder to peel than older eggs because the membrane between the shell and the egg is more firmly attached to the egg white.)

LIKE THIS? THEN SIGN UP TO THE GHI HOMES NEWSLETTER NOW! —

WHAT ARE YOU HIDING, EGGS? (Picture: Getty)

You wake up on a Sunday morning, hungry. You decide to be a sensible, responsible adult and skip heading to McDonald’s or dropping a load of cash on overpriced brunch. The wisest option: to pop down to the kitchen and make some poached eggs on toast/a fry-up/any other form of cooked egg deliciousness.

If you’re lucky, you’ll already have eggs downstairs, ready and waiting for you. Which will lead you on to the next big question: exactly how fresh are these eggs?

It’s an important thing to ask. No one wants old eggs, particularly when poaching.

Thankfully there are some ways to discover the freshness of an egg, without having to crack one open or hunt around for the expiry date on the box.

1. Shake your egg

(Picture: Getty)

This one’s the easiest. Mental Floss explains that if you shake a fresh egg, you won’t hear anything.

Advertisement Advertisement

If you hear liquid sloshing around, your egg is old.

This is because older eggs have absorbed more air, allowing the white to move around inside the egg.

2. Do the water test

(Picture: Getty)

The classic. Place your egg in a bowl or glass of water (without cracking the shell). How the egg settles will reveal its freshness.

The egg water test:

  • If it sinks and sits horizontally at the bottom of the container, it’s really fresh
  • If it sinks to the bottom but tilts up halfway, it’s not fresh (but still fine to use)
  • If the egg floats, it’s stale

3. Smell the egg

(Picture: Getty)

Crack your egg into a bowl and give it a sniff.

If it’s gone bad and isn’t safe to use, you’ll know. It will not smell great.

4. Look at the ‘packed by’ date

(Picture: Getty)

Yeah, the best before date will probably help. But if you’ll only settle for the freshest eggs EVER, you should make a note to check the ‘packed by’ date when you’re doing you’re shopping.

Most egg boxes will have a three digit code which reveals when the eggs were packaged in their boxes.

To find this, look at the end of the box for a code that has a P followed by three numbers.

Advertisement Advertisement

The numbers actually signify the date the eggs were packed, using the Julian date calendar, which essentially means the actual day’s number in relation to the whole year. So January 1st is 001, and December 31st is 365.

Once you’ve found the number you’ll be able to work out the exact day your eggs were packed, and exactly how fresh they are now they’re in your hand. Magic.

5. Look at your egg

(Picture: Getty)

Crack your egg on to a plate to see the quality of its contents. A fresh egg holds together well, while an old egg won’t have the same structural integrity.

If the egg is super compact, it’s fresh. If it spreads wide across the plate, it’s getting a little stale.

If the yolk is plump and raised, your egg is fresh. If it’s flat and breaks easily, your egg is old.

What to do with old eggs:

(Picture: Getty)

As long as your eggs haven’t gone bad (which you’ll be able to judge from the smell and float test), you can still use them for scrambling and omelettes.

Super fresh eggs are really only needed for poaching, frying, and fancy baking.

How to store your eggs and keep them fresher for longer:

  • Eggs need to be kept in their box (or a special egg container, if you have one), so they’re protected from damage and contamination
  • Eggs need to be kept in the main body of the fridge – where it’s cooler – instead of the fridge door
  • If you have leftover eggs and yolks, you can pop them in airtight containers and put them in the fridge

Advertisement

How to freeze eggs:

How you freeze your eggs depends on which part of the egg you’re freezing. Exciting.

How to freeze eggs:

  • Whole eggs: Beat the egg until the yolk and white are blended. Pour into a container and freeze.
  • Whites: Make sure the yolks have been separated from the whites, then pour into containers and freeze.
  • Yolks: To freeze egg yolks, you’ll need to add in a pinch of salt, sugar, or corn syrup before freezing. This stops them from thickening.

MORE: So ‘veggan’ is a thing; a vegan who eats eggs. But what’s the point?

MORE: Greggs could start selling sushi as it increases healthy eating options

MORE: McDonald’s is getting in on the brunch game with their own version of Eggs Benedict

Advertisement Advertisement

The Fix

The daily lifestyle email from Metro.co.uk.

Find out more

How to tell if your eggs are fresh or have expired

We all rely on the printed dates on the packaging to tell when the food will go bad. But when it comes to eggs, we sometimes tend to overlook the dates on the carton. While some of you are well aware that eggs DO have expiry dates, there are others (like us) who knew eggs spoil some day or the other but found the ‘expiration date’ a bit incomprehensible.
So while we were at it we found out that we can, for certain, ascertain when the eggs turn bad. It’s not that hard, all you need is your senses – sight and smell. Thanks to culinary expert Ken Roube, food writer Gabrielle Taylor and Nutritionist Dr Lovneet Bhullar Batra, we now have clarifications to – how to identify a bad egg from a good one or what to do with eggs that have unfortunately expired or how to slow down the expiry date just in case there’s just too few eggs and we’re lazy to go out and buy new carton of eggs. It doesn’t hurt to know something interesting!

If you’ve been throwing away eggs just because the date on the packaging says YOUR EGGS EXPIRES ON 11/02/2016 – you’re wrong.
It is often noted that eggs are still good to eat long after the expiration date. But what is the ideal expiry date for eggs? “The shelf life of an unrefrigerated egg is 7 to 10 days and for refrigerated egg it’s about 30 to 45 days,” notes Dr Batra. But that doesn’t mean you can pop a 2-month old egg for a quick omelet.
How To Refrigerate Eggs
– Eggs can last for about 5-6 weeks if refrigerated properly.
– It’s best to refrigerate eggs in their original carton inside the refrigerator instead of the door because the temperature is constant there
– Eggs should be transported and stored at as constant a temperature as possible – a temperature between 19°C and 21°C in the winter and between 21°C and 23°C in the summer
What Difference Does Refrigeration Make To The Quality of Eggs?
“Eggs are refrigerated to reduce salmonella risk. Eggs that are fresh and have an intact cuticle do not need to be refrigerated, as long as they are going to get consumed within a week. However, the grocery-store eggs should not be left unrefrigerated because they’ve had their cuticles essentially washed off. This increases the salmonella risk,” warns Dr Batra.
Are Eggs Safe To Consume Past the Expiry Date. What Is The Worse Things That Can Happen If You Accidentally Consume an Expired Egg?
“There is an increased risk for salmonella food poisoning if you accidentally consume an expired egg.” – Dr Batra
The Best Way To Test If The Eggs Have Expired Or Not Is…
Like mentioned earlier, your eyes and nose are the best judges, to determine the freshness of eggs, when put to a simple home test called Floating Test. It’s the best way to tell the freshness of an egg without cracking it.
How Floating Test Is Done
You don’t need a lab, if that’s what you thought, your kitchen essentials are all that you need.
-Fill a transparent bowl with cold water and place your eggs in it.
– If they sink to the bottom and lay flat on their sides, they are fresh and will make for a delicious omelet.
– If they stand on one end at the bottom of the bowl (in upright position) it means they are a few weeks old but still good to eat and as foodie Yumi Sakugawa tells the upright ones are perfect for hard-boiling.
– But if you find the eggs floating on the surface of the bowl, just know that they are no longer fresh enough to eat. Don’t toss them away just yet, put them to other uses (listed below).
Why Is Floating Test The Best Method
“The reason this method works is because the eggshells are porous, which means they allow some air to get through. Which means the eggs that have been freshly laid will have less air in them, so they sink to the bottom. But the older eggs which have had more time for the air to penetrate the shells become more buoyant (light weight) and so it floats on the surface,” explains Food Journalist Gabrielle Taylor.
There Is Another Method To Test the Freshness (By Cracking Eggs)
It’s called the Plate & Sniff test. Unlike the floating test where the shell remains intact, P&S requires to:-
– Crack the egg onto a plate or any flat surface to check if it’s fresh or not.
– If it’s fresh, the white shouldn’t spread much and the yolk should appear bright yellow/orange.
– Then give it a sniff: fresh eggs shouldn’t have much of a smell.
– If the egg is older, the white will be flowy and thin while the yolk will be flatter. But this does not necessarily imply the egg is bad for consumption. If it’s gone really bad, you can right away make the distinction from the strong, distinct smell.
So What Can You Do With Expired Eggs
– Use dried and crushed eggshells to fertilize plants as they primarily consist of minerals like calcium and magnesium
– Eggs can be a great conditioning and smoothening mask for the hair. Apply and leave for 20 mins and wash.
– Eggs can be used for cleaning leather
– Pickling is another option. Many practise turning eggs (that are almost about to be expired) into pickle so to avoid expiration.
But would nutritionist approve of it? “Pickling is a way to preserve the food so that it could be eaten months later.” However, Dr Batra notes, “during this process if the egg is being punctured with a toothpick to allow the pickling solution penetrate to the egg’s interior it could be dangerous as it can introduce clostridium. Eggs prepared with this method may also have high levels of botulinium toxins.”

Like it? Share it!
FacebookPinterestRedditTwitter

Well folks, I hate to break it to you. Those supermarket eggs you have been buying all these years…well…they are not quite as ‘fresh’ as one would think.

In this video by the J&J Acres YouTube channel, we learn about a product code that most consumers may not be aware of.

On every carton of eggs is the “best by/sell by” date that we are all used to, but there are also some other numbers. These numbers represent the day of the 365-day year they were packed. For instance, “001” would mean packed on January 1, while “365” would mean packed on December 31.

By looking at this number, you can get an idea of roughly how old those eggs already are before you take them home.

In the video below, some of the eggs have been sitting in their cartons for over 40 days! That’s right, those ‘fresh’ eggs, really are not that fresh. In fact, they are rather old!

No laws are being broken, but the practice of calling eggs ‘Fresh’ is rather a joke and quite untrue.

The next time you are out grocery shopping, take a moment and check just how ‘fresh’ the eggs are, because now you know how to!

The Strange Shelf-Lives of 10 Common Grocery Store Goods

Ever wondered why some foods tend to rot as soon as you get them home while others have miraculous shelf-lives? It could have something to do with how old some foods are before you even buy them. Below, we break down some commonly purchased goods that are as fresh as possible—and a few that might be a little older than you think.

1. ORANGE JUICE

Is your orange juice actually made from fresh oranges, like many OJ companies market? Likely, no, says researcher and author Alissa Hamilton. According to Hamilton’s investigation, “not from concentrate” orange juices are stored in million-gallon tanks for up to a year before being bottled and sent to grocery stores. Orange juice is first pasteurized, has its oxygen removed and then is stored in tanks. When it’s ready for packaging, orange juice manufacturers add in “flavor packs” to boost the orange taste.

2. APPLES

If you’ve ever picked an apple from the tree and wondered why it tasted different than store-bought fruit, it could be age. Apples can be up to a year old by the time you buy them, though they’re still safe to eat. Year-round apple demand means that a short harvest season—usually from late summer to early fall—somehow has to provide a supply for the following year. To make apples last, harvesters store the fruit in low-oxygen, high-carbon dioxide coolers, sometimes applying fungicides to prevent rot, or 1-methylcyclopropene, a gas that stops apples from emitting the ethylene gas that causes them to ripen and age. Other apple producers use wax coatings to help the fruit retain moisture and appear fresh, which isn’t too unnatural since apples produce their own protective, waxy layer that is often lost during harvesting and washing.

3. EGGS

There’s a lot of debate about what kind of eggs you should buy—cage-free, free-range, organic, or whatever’s cheapest. But most eggs have age in common, and they can be up to 45 days old before they’re no longer sellable. While most egg cartons come with an expiration or “best before” date, egg processors technically don’t have to stamp their cartons so long as their eggs are graded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). If they do label eggs, there are basic rules: expiration dates can’t be any more than 30 days from when the eggs were packaged, and grocery stores can’t sell them after that date. If “best before” stamps are used, the date on the package can’t be any more than 45 days from when the eggs were carton-packed. U.S. egg regulations are different than other countries’, mainly in that American eggs are washed and chemically sanitized before being refrigerated and shipped to stores. Throughout Europe, eggs aren’t washed, and producers instead use an egg’s natural protective coating to keep it safe before reaching shoppers.

4. BEEF

Grocery store beef is often a bit older when it gets to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good. Many cuts of beef are aged before they’re sent off to packaging and shoppers, and that means it can be nearly six weeks old by the time you add it to your grocery cart. Aging uses microbes and enzymes to break down some of the tissue, with the goal of naturally tenderizing meat. How it’s done depends on the beef producer; some sides of meat are simply hung in large coolers, while other meats are wrapped in plastic bags before being hung. Each way has its own effect on how meat ages. So, how do you identify good beef in the meat department? The trick is to look for red, not brown, meat. Vacuum-sealed meat often looks purple, but beef that’s been exposed to oxygen turns bright red. It’ll turn brown about five days later because of natural chemical changes, and can feel tacky or smell “off” any time after that.

5. POTATOES

The age of root vegetables like potatoes may not come as a surprise because of how long they last in dark pantries at home. After being harvested, potatoes are stored in large, temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouses where airflow systems keep 20-foot-deep potato mounds from rotting. They can stay this way for up to 11 months before heading off to be cleaned and packaged. If you’ve ever wondered where those bumps and nicks in your potatoes come from, it’s the harvesting process. As potatoes are pulled out of fields, harvesting machinery can rough them up a bit. But properly stored potatoes can heal their bruises and cuts within two weeks.

6. LETTUCE

Leafy greens like lettuce can be fresh, or a few weeks old, depending on where you live and what kind of lettuce you buy. Nearly 90 percent of lettuce sold during the winter in the U.S. comes from Yuma, Arizona, where it’s warm enough for the plants to grow. Shipping times vary based by destination, meaning lettuce could be just a few days old, or longer if refrigerated before and during transport. But, bagged lettuces and greens can be up to two weeks old from the time they’re harvested, cleaned and packaged, and shipped to stores.

7. BREAD

There’s no clear answer to how long bread can sit on grocery store shelves before it’s tossed, since every grocery store has its own standards for food loss. But there are ways to tell when your bread was baked. Bread tags are often color-coordinated to note what day of the week a loaf was baked, such as blue for Monday or green for Tuesday. This color tagging makes it easier for bread distributors and store stockers to rotate out fresh loaves without having to stop and look at each package’s date. But, that doesn’t mean you should completely rule out the old-fashioned squeeze test, because not every bakery follows the same color-coordinated tag system. As for how long your loaf will last at home, it depends on how you store it. On the counter, bread should last five to seven days , but refrigerated bread can last longer. If you come across a good bread sale, there’s no harm in freezing extra loaves, which retain peak flavor for up to three months.

8. MILK

Milk normally leaves a dairy, is pasteurized and bottled, and arrives at grocery stores within 48 hours. While that’s pretty fast for a food that expires quickly, it doesn’t mean that shoppers aren’t still conscious of “best by” dates when picking up a gallon. So if milk is relatively fresh when it arrives, how long can it stay in the grocery cooler? That depends on each state’s rules and can vary between 12 and 21 days after milk has been pasteurized. At home, using the “best by” stamp to determine freshness isn’t a hard and fast rule because refrigerator temperature, level of pasteurization, and other factors (like backwash from drinking out of the carton) affect how long milk lasts. The sure-fire way to know if milk has spoiled is the age-old sniff test.

9. CRANBERRIES

Cranberries have made a name for themselves during fall and winter celebrations. But, it’s not just the holidays that increase cranberry sales. The bog-dwelling berries are actually harvested during their popular season, and make their way to grocers soon after. When ripe, cranberry marshes are flooded and the berries are pulled from their vines by rotating machines called beaters. The berries then float to the top of the marsh and are collected. Cranberries bought in September, October, and November are usually fresh, but they will last in freezers for up to a year.

10. DELI FOODS

If you’re swinging by the grocery deli for a roasted chicken or quick meal, it’s probably nice to know that your food was likely made that day. Most grocery store delis toss leftover, prepared foods that were cooked that day. In many cases, they aren’t packaged for sale the next day or even sold to employees clocking out for the day. The grocery industry can lose millions by throwing out this food ($900 million in 2001, by one survey’s estimate), but they’ll pass that cost on to the consumer. That’s why the sliced-while-you-wait deli meat costs more than the very similar package in the aisle. But, in terms of freshness, the deli counter is great bet.

All images courtesy of iStock

The Modern Farmer Guide to Grocery Store Eggs

The “Don’t Be Impressed By This” Category

No matter what nature scene a marketer puts on the package, All Natural will continue to be “just a marketing ploy,” says Mick Bessire, an agricultural educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension. “It doesn’t really have any regulatory status. It has the connotation that no antibiotics were used in the production, but that is not always the case,” he says. “They can be in battery cages or have their beaks trimmed and still be called natural.” Battery cages are small cages on conventional egg farms where chickens live out their lives. United Egg Producers (UEP), an industry trade organization and basically the industry standard (representing ownership of about 94 percent of egg-laying hens), allows 0.46 to 0.59 square feet per bird, often compared to the size of a sheet of paper. A study in British Poultry Science, however, contends that chickens need more space than that (0.58 to 1 square feet) to simply turn around.

Farm Fresh has a cute ring to it, but this, too, holds no real meaning. For best freshness indicator, find the Julian (packaging) date.

Lastly, don’t let No Hormones hold any weight in your egg choice. Is it incorrect? No. But the USDA bans hormone use in egg-laying hens, so companies that use it as a marketing ploy are essentially patting themselves on the backs for not breaking the law. Don’t give them extra credit for doing so.

The “Well-Intended but Hard to Guarantee What You’re Getting” Category

Cage-Free, Free-Range, and Pasture-Raised: Each conjures up the image of chickens pecking freely and happily around a field, but since the phrases are different, they must be held to different standards, right? The regulations spell out only qualifiable, and not quantifiable, requirements.

Cage-Free is a voluntary label recognized by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) as birds permitted to roam a room, building, or enclosure without the confines of battery cages. They aren’t guaranteed access to the outdoors, or even much personal space – again, it’s not quantified – but they do have a little more room to flap. For example, a cage-free establishment near Hershey, Pennsylvania, has 18,000 birds in house, all with no access to the outdoors but plenty of opportunity to perch and dust bathe, things chickens instinctively do for safety and hygiene respectively.

Free-Range (or Free-Roaming) is another voluntary label, which means that chickens have access to the outdoors. Specifics – like how much time and space allotted outdoors – aren’t stipulated by the AMS. Having a door on the barn doesn’t mean it actually opens for a chicken to get outside, but it does mean it’s possible. The video provides one example of what a free-range chicken farm can look like.

For eggs with cage-free and free-range claims, AMS personnel visit each egg production site twice per year to verify animal husbandry practices.

Pasture-Raised isn’t defined by the AMS. Labeling rules for pasture-raised products haven’t been developed, the organization says, “due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems.”

Mike Badger, executive director of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, says pasture-raised (or pastured poultry) is a model in which birds are raised outdoors based on time of year, location, and age of the birds; and likely on a rotated pasture: One spot this week, a different spot next. “If you let the chickens repeatedly forage in the same ground, they’re eventually going to turn it into a dirt lot, no matter the size,” Badger says. “Rotate the pasture for both soil health and bird health. New pasture moves chickens away from their own manure onto fresh green grass, with the chance to forage for bugs.”

The “Worth Paying Attention To” Category

Says AMS spokesperson Samuel Jones-Ellard: “Even without AMS verifying the claim ‘pasture-raised,’ from a regulatory standpoint, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would have to make sure the claims on the packaging are correct.” Lauren Kotwicki, a spokesperson for the FDA, confirmed Jones-Ellard’s statement. And it’s worth noting that all label claims on egg cartons, regulated or not, are subject to investigation by the FDA.

Despite the lack of regulation (in terms of required space per bird, time spent inside versus outside, etc.) the three aforementioned labels have something going for them, says Badger: “their lowest common denominator – lack of cage for cage-free, ability to roam around for free-range, and time outside for pasture-raised.” However, The Cornucopia Institute released a detailed report this past winter called “Scrambled Eggs: Separating Factory Farm Production from Authentic Organic Agriculture,” highlighting the lack of consistency among organic egg brands that use these phrases. Hint: There’s a lot of it.

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has stringent rules for what’s certified and labeled Organic. By nature, Certified Organic egg-laying hens are cage-free, have access to the outdoors, and are vegetarian/organically fed. The NOP mandates “year-round access to the outdoors” – again, access doesn’t mean it’s always happening – provided it’s safe and weather-appropriate for hens to be outside. It does specify that “continuous total confinement of any animal indoors is prohibited.” Farms that follow these rules but don’t obtain certification (it takes time and money) are barred from using the USDA Organic seal on their food.

And that Cornucopia Institute report we mentioned? That only focused on USDA Certified Organic brands. Sad to say, but there are a lot of inconsistencies even with the NOP watching out. The organic egg scorecard, where Cornucopia judges egg producers on 28 different criteria including indoor and outdoor space per bird, hen lifespan, and exits to the outdoors, shows how some brands go above and beyond for their laying hens while others – particularly industrial organic operations, which can have 100,000 or more laying hens per building – do not, or at the very least, refused to be transparent enough for Cornucopia to think they do.

Though government regulation and private certification aren’t the same thing, several non-governmental organizations have their own stamp of approval visible on associated products. Egg producers voluntarily apply for consideration, and each have their own rules:

United Egg Producers Certified supports caging hens, but does present requirements for hens deemed cage-free. Each hen in a cage-free environment needs a minimum range of 1 to 1.5 square feet of floor space to itself, and nesting and perching spaces are required. No outdoor access is required.

Food Alliance Certified requires at least 1.23 square feet to 1.75 feet of space per bird and eight to 16 hours of fresh air and natural sunlight access a day. Outdoor spaces must have living vegetation designed to prevent soil erosion and water contamination. Nesting, perching, and dust-bathing opportunities are required, and severe beak trimming, toe clipping, and dubbing (cutting the wattle) are not permitted. Feed-additive antibiotics or non-therapeutics antibiotics aren’t allowed either.

American Humane Certified lays out specific requirements for enriched colony housing, cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised. Enriched colonies cage birds, but with more space than battery cages: 0.8 square feet, each with a space for nesting and perching. Cage-free birds require 1.25 square feet of floor space as well as a place to perch and nest. Free-range requires 21.8 square feet of roaming space per bird, and pasture-raised requires 108.9 square feet of specifically outdoor space with living vegetation per bird.

Certified Humane offers three levels of certification including cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised. Cage-free birds can be kept indoors but require nesting and perching opportunities. Free-range requires outdoor access six hours a day and 2 square feet of outdoor space. Pasture-raised requires 2.5 acres of pasture per 1,000 hens per day. While pasture-raised requires living vegetation in outdoor spaces, free-range specifies ground covered by living vegetation “where possible.”

Animal Welfare Approved recommends flocks of less than 500 birds, though each farmer may have multiple flocks. Each hen is required 1.8 square feet of indoor floor space, with opportunities to nest, perch, and dust bathe. They must also have 4 square feet of healthy outdoor space per bird where they can range and forage. AWA also stands alone as the only organization to completely ban beak trimming, the practice of trimming part of a hen’s beak meant to prevent them from pecking at each other, which, according to the AWA, has been scientifically shown to cause acute and chronic pain.

certifiedhumane.org

What About Grading?

In descending order, the USDA grades eggs as AA, A, or B. AAs are of the best quality, Bs are the least. Anything below a B is not graded and not put out on store shelves. To be graded at all, eggs must be clean and unbroken – B eggs are perfectly edible, and the lower rating should not necessarily discount them from your breakfast menu. Undesirable external qualities such as bumps, ridges, thin spots, or deviation from a perfect oval shape may knock an egg from a higher to a lower grade; and such internal qualities include a thinner egg white (determined by candling, where an egg is rotated over a light that allows one to see the inside contents of the shell without cracking it open), smaller yolk, and a larger air sac.

“With less of an air sac, there’s more egg to AAs,” explains Bessire. “The air sac is good if you’re hatching eggs – it gives the embryos a little more breathing room, so to speak – but it’s not particularly good if you’re looking for a bigger, better omelette.”

And Size?

The descriptors jumbo, extra large, medium, and so on refer to the average weight of one dozen eggs. This is the breakdown, which probably only matters if you’re seeking the best-size egg for a recipe:

Source: The Kitchn

What’s the Deal With Shell Color?

Your grocer’s egg fridge is likely stocked with cartons of ovoid white eggs. In the last handful of years, brown eggs have started keeping them company. Were the white ones bleached? Are the brown ones healthier? Rumors abound, but both answers are no.

Egg color depends on the breed of hen and can range from white, cream, brown, blue, and green. According to Bessire, hens tend to lay eggs with a color related to that of their earlobes, not their feathers. Red earlobes? Brown eggs. White earlobes? White eggs.

Flickr: wwworks

What Does the Color Inside Mean?

Deeper yolk color indicates a diet higher in carotenoids, which are natural red, orange, or yellow pigments found in plants. Carotenoids are essential antioxidants, and a diet higher in carotenoids is common with chickens who are allowed to forage for plants and bugs. Similar to a fan of paint colors from the hardware store, the DSM YolkFan contains possible yolk shades ranging from light yellow and deep orange. It’s the industry’s standard tool for measuring egg yolk color.

However, manipulating egg yolk color is easy enough. Chickens that have eaten red chiles have darker yolks due to the active dye naturally within the chiles; and paprika and marigold petals are also used to “micromanage” egg yolk color.

If you know where your eggs come from, perhaps you can ask your farmer if he or she uses natural dye sources to pigment yolk color.

Bottom Line

Boil ’em, fry ’em, poach ’em, scramble ’em. There’s no denying the versatility of the incredible, edible egg. From breakfast staple and baking ingredient, they end up in our fridges for a number of reasons… but first, we’re presented with the option to buy this carton or that carton, painted with different phrases we’re left to guess about and perhaps a grazing chicken graphic.

So what to choose? The Cornucopia Institute’s “Scrambled Eggs” report includes a report card on various brands’ treatment of chickens and land: Start there by looking up the brands in your grocer’s fridge. Seek brands with multiple stamps of approval from organizations with high standards. Or, find a farm near you and visit it: See your farmers’ faces, their fields, their chickens, their eggs. Gauge quality of life for the chickens, and know that any money spent on your local farm will increase the quality of your farmers’ lives, too.