Are ‘Expired’ Eggs Still OK to Eat? This Genius Trick Lets You Know For Sure

We’ve all been there — standing in front of the refrigerator debating whether it’s best to cook those questionable eggs or throw them out. Because, despite what the expiration date says, we have that glimmering ounce of hope that maybe, just maybe, our refrigerator staples are still OK to eat. (And honestly, who can stand the thought of wasting any more food than we already do?)

With all of the confusing terminology — sell by vs. use by vs. best by — sticking to expiration dates can be tough. In fact, translating food labels in general can be a chore, let alone knowing if your eggs have actually gone bad, just because the expiration date says so. But don’t worry, because good news is on the way.

We’ve compiled a few easy-to-follow tips into one handy cheat sheet, so you’ll never have to wonder about the safety of your food ever again. (Stay tuned for the egg trick reveal at No. 4 on the list.) But before we get to those, let’s start by decoding what various expiration dates really mean.

1. What does the ‘sell by’ date mean?

egg with expiration date

It will last longer than just the sell by date. | KenTannenbaum/iStock/Getty Images

The sell by date refers to the end of a product’s shelf life at the store. However, while this is the last day that a store should display the item, stores are not actually required by law to remove an expired item from the shelf. So, be sure to do your due diligence when you’re at the grocery store.

Furthermore, if you do happen to purchase a product passed its sell by date, the food could still be good, but it’s recommended that you put it to use soon after it was purchased.

Next: Don’t be fooled by this date.

2. What does the ‘use by’ date mean?

Concerned Woman Looking At Pre Packaged Meat

It’s not at its best quality, but it’s alright to eat. | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

As consumers, we’ve been trained to stick to the dates on food packaging. If we don’t abide, there are sure to be serious consequences, right? Well, not necessarily. The “use by” date, for instance, refers to the last day that the manufacturer actually vouches for the product’s quality. But that doesn’t mean that this date is the end-all, be-all. The food may no longer be at its “peak quality,” but it could still be OK to eat.

Next: One last definition before the big egg-trick reveal. 

3. What does the ‘best by’ date mean?

Best by date on bottom of can

The quality of the food might be diminished. | ScottNodine/iStock/Getty Images

It’s easy to confuse this term with the aforementioned one. But they are, in fact, different. The best by date refers to the last day that the product’s quality (i.e., flavor) is best.

Furthermore, according to Eat By Date, the best by date “indicates that the quality of their food might begin to diminish after that date, but it is still good to eat and the shelf life is still active for a period beyond that of a pre-determined best-by date.”

Next: Now, let’s get to the one trick that tells you whether your “expired” eggs are really still OK to eat. 

4. Expired eggs? Find out with the float test

eggs on shelf of refrigerator

Try floating them to see if they’re good. | jarabee123/iStock/Getty Images

Just because your egg carton has an expiration date doesn’t mean you should be tossing any uneaten eggs once that date has passed. (But already knew that, because now, you’re a pro.) And the only tool you need to tell whether eggs are still fresh is the float test.

First, fill a large bowl or pot with cold water, and place the eggs in. If they sink to the bottom, and lay flat on one side, then they’re at their peak freshness. If they stand on one end at the bottom of the bowl or pot, that means they’re a few weeks old, but still OK to eat. And finally, if the eggs float to the surface, they’ve gone bad, and should not be eaten.

Next: Let’s see how other common staples fare when they’re no longer good to eat.  

5. Fruit has gone bad if it’s become mushy

Moldy food

Check for mold and bruising. | Charliestockis/iStock/Getty Images

Fruit is basically the poster child for not judging a book by its cover. Case in point: Plenty of physically-imperfect produce is passed over for the better-looking stuff. And we get it. However, let’s make sure that every piece of fruit has a fighting chance, especially before tossing it in the trash just because it looks a little off.

Bananas, for instance, go bad when they’re mushy, moldy, or leaky. Brown spots, however, are more than OK. As for apples and pears, it’s best to check for any mold or insect holes. If that all looks good, but the skin is bruised, just peel back the top layer to check underneath. If the flesh is also brown — and mushy — it’s no good.

Next: Fruit’s counterpart doesn’t follow the same rules when it goes bad. 

6. Fresh vegetables have gone bad if they turn yellow

Fruit and Vegetables, carrots, peas

Check for yellowing. | iStock/Getty Images

Veggies, as opposed to fruit, will often change color if they’re no longer good to eat. “When most green vegetables begin to go bad, they start to lose their color or turn yellow,” Business Insider says. “This is often the case with broccoli and kale, for example, but may apply to other fresh veggies as well.”

Next: You don’t want to mess around with this one. 

7. Uncooked meat has gone bad if it has a slimy or sticky texture

raw chicken breast on a cutting board

Stay clear of raw chicken if it’s slimy. | iStock/Getty Images

Just to clarify on the context here, we’re talking about uncooked meat that’s not meant to be eaten raw. So, meat that you’ve yet to prepare in the oven, on the grill, or otherwise. That said, there are some important signs you need to look out for before you begin cooking meat that has a questionable timeline.

If you notice a change in color alone, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the meat has spoiled. But you do need to pay attention to a few other factors. “In addition to the color change, the meat or poultry will have an off odor, be sticky or tacky to the touch, or it may be slimy,” the United States Department of Agriculture says. “If meat has developed these characteristics, it should not be used.”

Next: Is it supposed to smell like that? 

8. Cheese has gone bad if it smells like spoiled milk

Organic sharp Cheddar cheese on a wooden cutting board.

Rotten cheese definitely has a particular smell. | bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

Here’s the thing about cheese: It can smell bad even when it’s still good. Therefore, telling the difference can be tricky. But there are a few things you can do to educate yourself on cheese-appropriate-stink.

For starters, ask your cheesemonger about the product’s scent when you buy it. That way, you’ll be able to identify any major changes in smell that you know aren’t normal. Furthermore, while mold is typically a sign that something’s no longer safe to eat, it’s often added to certain cheeses to help the ripening process. Because of this, knowing the difference is key.

In hard cheeses, mold spotted on the outside can be cut away. But on soft cheeses, mold is a red flag. It can spread easily and should be thrown out.

Next: Eating this food after it’s gone bad can make you sick. 

9. Deli meat has gone bad if it’s slimy

"Thin sliced ham, cheddar cheese and a loaf of bread"

If the meat becomes slimy, stay away. | MSPhotographic/iStock/Getty Images

There’s always a debate over the shelf life of deli meat. And the sticker date typically isn’t the deciding factor. Which begs the question, “How can I be sure?”

Deli meat can last for about a week in the fridge, but use your best judgment on this one. If it becomes slimy or develops a sour odor, it’s no good, and definitely not worth the risk.

Next: Don’t cry over this spoiled food, just throw it out.

10. Milk and yogurt have gone bad if they smell sour

If they smell bad, don’t drink them. | iStock/Getty Images

OK, so it’s pretty easy to determine a spoiled gallon of milk. It’s lumpy or chunky (yum!) and smells sour. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s discuss a much more difficult dairy product — yogurt.

Yogurt is known for its beneficial bacteria cultures, which is why knowing the difference between still good and no good can be tricky. And according to Still Tasty, there are a few “signs of spoilage” to look out for, such as “a highly runny and watery consistency, a clumpy texture and a sour smell,” as well as any sign of mold whatsoever.

Still with us, or have you already begun ransacking your fridge? Either way, these tips will not only help keep your family safe, but they’ll make you think twice before wasting any food that’s still perfectly good to eat, despite what the expiration date might say.

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