The Secret Meaning Behind the Numbers On Your Egg Carton

An egg carton’s expiration date isn’t as reliable as it seems. On the side of the carton, right by or below the “sell by” date, you’ll see a 3-digit code. That’s the Julian date, your fail-safe guide to fresh eggs. Ranging from 001 to 365, the Julian date represents the day the eggs were packaged. Each code corresponds to a day in the year, so 001 would be January 1 and 365 would represent December 31. Once the eggs are packaged, they’ll keep in your refrigerator for 4-5 weeks. According to the USDA, eggs can be sold for up to 30 days after they were packaged. So, even if they’re in stock and not expired, they might be weeks old. It’s obvious newly packaged eggs taste better, but an egg’s quality can significantly deteriorate over time. As an egg ages, it loses moisture and carbon dioxide, making the whites thinner and the yolk more susceptible to breaking. When you eat old, expired eggs, your risk of getting a foodborne illness from them increases. As for the code starting with a “P” right next to the Julian date, that’s the plant code. That represents where the eggs were packaged, and if there’s ever an egg recall, the plant code will determine whether your carton is included. When buying eggs, the general rule of thumb to follow is: If you’re buying eggs in early to mid-January, look for lower numbers (015 will be fresher than 364). If you’re buying eggs later in the year, look for the highest number possible.