Eggs are a staple in kitchens across America. They're affordable and can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways, whether you're baking or simply scrambling them.
Unlike certain food products that spoil easily within a few days, if eggs are stored properly, they will stay fresh for as long as possible.
However, it's important to know that the freshness of your eggs is also dependent on how long they've been sitting at the store.
In addition to checking for the grade, "Sell By" and expiration dates, you should also watch out for a three-digit number that's usually located just below the aforementioned details.
This code is known as the Julian date, and it will help you determine if the eggs you're about to purchase are worth taking home.
How to decipher the codes
The code follows the Julian calendar format, with numbers ranging from 001 to 365.
These digits represents the day the eggs were packed in the carton. For instance, January 1 is 001 and December 31 is 365.
Once packaged, eggs can keep in the fridge for four to five weeks.
But since the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) permits stores to sell eggs for up to 30 days after they are packaged, the eggs you're buying may not be as fresh you think, even if their expiration date is far away.
For example, a carton that reads 052 MAR 22 means that the eggs were packaged on February 21 and will expire on March 22. The latter is the date that the eggs must be pulled off store shelves, but you can still keep them in your fridge for up to two weeks after.
The third set of numbers is the plant code. The 4-digit code, usually preceded by a "P," can be found in all egg cartons packed in a USDA inspected plant.
If you're curious about where your eggs come from, you can enter the plant code into this tool to find out where your eggs were packaged. You will also be able to find information on recalls that may affect the eggs.
You'd be surprised about just how far away the eggs in your fridge have traveled from, so this tool is especially important for those who like to support local farms and plants.
Why should you care about these numbers?
Obviously, fresh eggs taste better and yield better results when baking, but there's an even more important reason why you should be paying attention to the Julian code on the carton.
Old eggs can put you at the risk of getting a food-borne illness, like salmonella. More than 140,000 cases of salmonella poisoning are caused by the poultry by-product.
While we're on the topic of eggs, you should also make sure that you're keeping them in the right part of the fridge.
Avoid storing eggs in those plastic egg racks that come with the fridge. They're "susceptible to changes in temperature due to the fridge door opening and closing and can cause your eggs to go rotten more quickly," according to Vlatka Lake, storage expert from Space Station.