How Fresh Are Fresh Eggs?
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Photo: Jean&Vic/ flickr
When I was growing up in Philadelphia, we had a fresh-killed chicken delivered to us once a week from a farm in Vineland, New Jersey, about an hour’s drive away. Eggs, however, came from the A&P, a 10-minute walk from our house. When I referred in yesterday’s post to cardboard-flavored eggs, the A&P kind were what I was thinking of. I didn’t know what a fresh egg was until my husband and I came to Western Massachusetts and we started raising our own.
Fresh eggs have yolks that are bright yellow, shading toward orange. When you crack one into the frying pan, the yolk sits up tall; it doesn’t lie flat like a pale yellow pancake. If you like your fried eggs over easy, you’d have to work at it to break the yolk when you turn the egg. In home-economics class in junior high school, one of the tests we girls (boys took shop while we learned to cook for them) had to take involved turning a store-bought fried egg without breaking the yolk. Most of us found it impossible.
If you’ve never eaten a fresh egg, you don’t know what eggs taste like. Once you do, you won’t want to go back.
If we don’t sell our hens’ eggs within five days, we don’t sell them; we freeze them in two-egg packages for our own use in making things that need beaten eggs.
USDA considers eggs as fresh until 45 days after they are packed. I’m guessing commercial eggs are packed the day they’re laid, but I don’t know that for sure. We put them in egg cartons as soon as we take them from the nest because that’s the best way to avoid breakage. I imagine factory egg farms work the same way.
USDA says eggs should be consumed within three to five weeks after you buy them. Following this policy, you could be eating eggs 6 to 11 weeks after they were laid. Assuming proper sanitation and handling all along the way, they’d still be safe. But would they be worth eating? I think not.
Here’s how to tell how old the eggs are that you get in the supermarket. At the end of the carton you should find a “sell by” date. You can estimate the date the eggs werepacked by counting back 45 days.
Another, more accurate way is to find the “pack date” on the egg carton. It’s a three-digit number, usually above the “sell-by” date. How do you get a date out of a three-digit number? You count the number of days since New Year’s Day. January 1 is 001 and December 31 is 365 (or 366 in leap years.) If your newspaper carries the syndicated This Day in History column, you can find the day number there. If not, there’s a day-of-the-year table right here.
If you have the option, stop buying supermarket eggs and find a local farmer or farmer’s market to buy them from. You’ll enjoy them more, and get more nourishment from them. And by the way, if you’re still thinking that eggs will pack cholesterol on your arteries, get over it. Egg yolks do contain cholesterol, but egg whites contain choline, which dissolves cholesterol. Most doctors aren’t yet ready to take responsibility for telling you this, but clincial studies have shown that eating an egg or two a day won’t cause you any harm (unless, of course, you’re allergic to them, in which case forget what I just told you.)