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Which Comes First, Egg Quality or Safety? 
Which Comes First, Egg Quality or Safety?

Which Comes First, Egg Quality or Safety? 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Nutrition, Wellness

A National Resources Defense Council survey, found that 90% of Americans toss out food prematurely. Much of this waste can be attributed to a confusing food dating system that is not federally regulated. 

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states on its website that, except for infant formula, product dating is not required. The expiration date is simply the manufacturer's suggestion of when their product is at its best quality. 

Still, the sell-by date of eggs is one of the most hotly debated food safety myths and facts. Are the dates listed on the carton a food quality or safety guideline? Let’s follow the process from the farm to the store.  


Pack date 

The three-digit code printed on the end of each egg carton indicates when the eggs were washed, graded and packaged. That code is known as the Julian date. A 001 code means it was packed on January 1. A 365 code was packed on December 31. So, a carton with a packaging date of 032 means the eggs were packed on February 1. If you look for the carton with the highest Julian date, the eggs are packed the closest to the date you're buying them and are therefore the freshest.  


Best-by, sell-by, expiration or use-by date 

There will always be a best-by, sell-by, expiration or use-by date on the end of an egg carton. Again, it’s not a federal requirement, except for egg producers displaying the USDA logo. Regulations vary by state.

That date is written out in an easily recognizable format. 


Sell-by or expiration date 

The sell-by or expiration date is mainly for the store, letting them know when to pull the carton from the shelf if it has not sold. The expiration date on cartons with the USDA logo can be up to 30 days past the pack date.  

You should only purchase a carton of eggs before the sell-by or expiration date, however, eggs can still be used for several weeks. 


Best-by or use-by date 

Conversely, a best-by or use-by date is primarily for the consumer's use. According to the USDA, the best-by date indicates when a food product will have the best flavor or quality. For eggs, this will generally be around five weeks after the Julian date but must be less than 45 days from when the eggs were packed.  

If you throw eggs out as soon as their expiration date arrives, you may be wasting money. Check the carton codes, store them in their original carton in the back of a refrigerator set at 40° F and you’ll protect your wallet, too.  


There are many myths about eggs. Read updated research on eggs and cholesterol here.


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Genesis HealthCare System’s Health and Wellness content conveniently provides accurate and helpful information. Your health history and current health may impact suggestions provided through our Health and Wellness content. Although we hope this information is helpful, it is not a substitute for your doctor's medical advice. Before making any significant changes, please consult your doctor.