Because eggs are such a deliciously easy and cheap way to get your protein, you may have dozens sitting in your fridge — which begs the question, can you eat expired eggs? Even after a big Sunday pancake breakfast, you may find yourself with too many eggs, so we don’t blame you if a few go past their expiration date. The short answer to the question “What happens if you eat expired eggs?” is that you’ll probably be OK, though there are a few signs to watch for or you’ll wind up with something more painful than just an upset stomach.
What to Know About Egg Expiration Dates
Things start to get a little confusing when it comes to egg expiration dates. If you’ve ever picked up a carton of eggs at your grocery store, you’ve probably noticed a series of numbers in small print. Those are the plant number, the package date, and the sell-by date.
What do these numbers mean and how can you tell them apart? The plant number will usually start with the letter “P” followed by a string of numbers. The sell-by date, which is sometimes written as the expiration date or best-by date, is usually an abbreviated month and the date. The package date, which is a three-digit code, is the date the eggs were put in the carton. It’s also written as the Julian date, meaning January 1 is 001 and December 31 is 365.
The reason the sell-by time stamp is a bit misleading is because it’s not really an expiration date. Eggs that have been processed at plants inspected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) can’t sit on the grocery store shelves for more than 30 days after they’re packed, according to USDA rules. So the sell-by date is really just an indicator of when that 30-day window is over — not when the eggs will go bad.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), refrigerated eggs can last between three and five weeks. That means that even if you grab a carton of eggs on the sell-by date, they theoretically could be safe to eat for at least another week. Just make sure that your eggs stay nestled in a chilly fridge; letting your eggs get too warm is a surefire way to make them go bad. The best place to store eggs is the body of your fridge, not the egg rack.
How to Tell If Eggs Are Spoiled
If you’re approaching that five-week mark and you’re unsure whether your eggs are safe to eat, there’s a simple way to tell if your eggs are spoiled: the float test. To check whether eggs are spoiled without cracking them, you only need a big bowl of cold water. Put your eggs in the bowl and see what happens. If they sink and lie on their sides, they’re fresh and OK to use. Older eggs that are still fine to eat will sink but sit on one end rather than on their sides. Eggs that float should be thrown out because they’re no longer fresh enough to use.
What happens if I eat expired eggs?
If you eat expired eggs by accident, your main concern should be salmonella poisoning. Both the egg shell and the whites and yolk can be contaminated for whatever reason, and improper cooking and/or storing methods will increase your risk of getting sick. Because salmonella can build up over time, older eggs may contain more of the bacteria.
In most cases, the symptoms of salmonella poisoning are stomach pain, diarrhea, fever, and chills. People with healthy immune systems can usually flush the bacteria out of their system within a few days. However, people with compromised immune systems, like young children and the elderly, may require antibiotics as treatment.
And there are more hazards to be aware of than just salmonella. Other bacteria called pseudomonas can cause your egg yolks to turn bluish-green and to develop a fruity, sour smell. Washing eggs in dirty water or storing them somewhere humid can also cause mold to grow. If you notice any changes in color or odd smells coming from your carton, you should toss it just to be safe.
While the risks of contracting a dangerous illness are low, it’s best to err on the side of caution. So if you’re unsure whether your eggs are safe to eat, try the water test. If they’re rotten, throw them out — a quick breakfast isn’t worth risking yours or your family’s health.
This story originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.