What a great question! I am not sure if everyone even notices those numbers on the end of the carton.
Let’s see exactly what all the numbers mean and why they area important for us to read.
Some people use a dozen eggs quickly, so quickly in fact that they buy them in 18 packs instead. Others of us don’t use many eggs and could probably buy a half dozen at a time.
The cost aside, because there is a fair cost difference per egg depending on the size of the carton you buy, let’s just talk about the freshness and safety aspect.
Egg carton numbers:
- Sell by date
This number is not required so some cartons might have it and some might not.
I personally prefer cartons with this date because in my area foods often sit on grocery shelves for awhile or they aren’t properly rotated so they could be much older than what I want to serve my family.
The sell by date is used by retailers to dictate when they should be sold – no later than that date. They will still be safe in your refrigerator for up to four to five weeks after the Julian date with proper storage.
- Julian date
This is the actual packing date and is the number for the day of year is was packed. Jan 1 would be 001 and Dec 31 would be 365. If you see the number 254 it would be packed September 12.
- Plant number
The number with a P in the front is the number of the plant where the eggs were packed. You can locate the plant here to find out more about its location and practices.
There are other terms that you will read on your egg carton that each have a meaning or a regulation including: pasteurized, cage-free, organic, free-range, certified, or hormone free. These designations are personal preference for you and your family. Different methods of production can impact the nutritional content depending on their feed (commercial, grass, insects or organic) and living conditions. In some of these techniques the vitamin and mineral content can be higher or lower fat and cholesterol content. If possible, know your producer and the methods they use to ensure they align with your desires.
Eggs are regulated by both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) collaboratively. The USDA inspects egg products like liquid and pasteurized eggs while the FDA inspects shelled eggs. The USDA inspects chicken facilities while the FDA inspects the chicken feed.
Their goal is to keep our egg supply free from Salmonella. Handling and preparing eggs safely when we buy, transport, store and use them at home will further reduce our potential for contracting foodborne illness when serving any recipe with eggs.
Eggs are nutritional powerhouses and are great to add to our diets as a meal, recipe ingredient or snack – packed with protein (a complete source), low in calories, and nutrient dense with almost every essential vitamin and mineral we need in varying amounts.