Know Your Egg Carton

The cozy carton that keeps your eggs from breaking also carries some very useful information. While some of it is easy to understand, the meaning of other information on the carton may be a little harder to crack.

Here’s a helpful guide to understanding your egg carton.

egg carton

(Photo source: United Egg Producers)

Julian date: This is usually found on the short side of the carton and is the number of the day of the year the eggs were packed. The day is written as a number, with Jan. 1 written as 001 and Dec. 31 as 365.

Sell by date: Many cartons also have a “sell by” date, although it is not required. This is the date beyond which eggs should not be sold. However, the eggs are still safe to eat for four to five weeks after the Julian (packing) date, even if the sell by date passes before that time.

Plant number: This starts with a P and indicates the facility where the eggs were packaged. Visit USDA to enter the plant number and learn more about the facility.

UEP Certified: The United Egg Producers’ UEP Certified logo can be used on cartons of eggs from farms that follow UEP’s guidelines for hen health and well-being. Participating farms must meet the certification guidelines on 100 percent of their hens as verified through independent, third-party audits.

Cage-Free: These climate-controlled barns have open floor space, accessible perches and enrichments, and hens are allowed to roam freely through sections of the building, exhibiting natural behaviors.

Free-Range: Hens have some access to the outdoors. Due to higher production costs and lower volume per farm, free-range eggs are generally more expensive.

Organic: USDA Certified Organic eggs are produced according to USDA standards that require hens receive only organic feed and have access to the outdoors.

If the carton doesn’t specify, the eggs were most likely produced in conventional cage housing, which consists of stacked rows of cages. It’s in that type of housing where the vast majority of eggs in the United States are produced.

Pasteurized: This term is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and refers to eggs heated in their shells to temperatures just below the coagulation point to eliminate naturally occurring pathogens. Though the supply is somewhat limited, pasteurized eggs can be beneficial for individuals with compromised immune systems.

Hormone Free: Egg-laying hens are never fed hormones. So whether or not the carton says so, all eggs are hormone free.

Safe handling instructions: The Food and Drug Administration requires all cartons of raw, shell eggs to carry the following statement: SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.

One other question we had about egg cartons: Is it safe to reuse them?
The Egg Safety Center recommends that cartons not be used to store eggs again. Even though the eggs are washed and sanitized before being packed in new cartons, there is potential for cross contamination if eggs are stored in them repeatedly.

To learn more about the sustainability of different types of housing systems, visit Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply.

The image “Six eggs” by Roger H. Goun is licensed under CC BY 2.0.