Old Eggs - they're still good

Old eggs are often still good, so don't assume they aren't.

If you're concerned about old eggs, you shouldn't be. Unless we're talking about eggs that are more than 6 months old, or ones that haven't been handled properly or haven't been refrigerated for several weeks.

Let's take a look at eggs that are older, and what it means to have them. You might be surprised, some eggs that are older are particularly useful for certain meals.

I'm very familiar with both fresh and not so fresh eggs, so I have some experience in these matters. Here's are my views.

Eggs naturally come in their own container -- kind of like a banana or an orange. It's a handy container that we can put to good use. Having a natural container helps extend the shelf life of eggs, so we can enjoy eggs that are many months old, provided we followed common sense with respect to harvesting, cleaning and proper egg storage.

How Old is Old?

This is our first challenge. Since I'm not an eggs-pert by any means, I'll have to stick my neck out here. That's okay, I've done it before and I'll gladly do so again.

Let's say that eggs that are more than one month old aren't fresh, and eggs that are two months or older are considered to be old. That might be as good a definition as we're going to get. Let's work under that assumption.

Old eggs suffer more moisture loss when stored in pasteboard cartons like these.

If we use that as a definition, then I have lots of old eggs in my refrigerator. Nevertheless, I'm not the least bit concerned about them, because they're not so old as to affect their usefulness, and I use the oldest first to keep any of them from going bad on me...because at some point, despite your best efforts, they will.

Of course, I'm talking about old eggs that have been properly cleaned and refrigerated from the start. Not eggs that have been out in the yard for a week or two before you find them. Here is my response to a reader that did just that -- found eggs in the yard that had been there for who knows how long in the heat of summer -- and then wondered whether they were still good.

How to Identify Old Eggs

There are ways to identify eggs that aren't fresh, or might be considered old. Here are four techniques you can use:

#1. Place an egg in a glass of water. If it readily floats, then it's one of the old eggs because it has had time to develop an air pocket. If it readily sinks, then it's a fresh egg with little or no air pocket at all. If it does something in between, then it's not a fresh egg, but not old either.

Some folks say if an egg floats, it's bad. That's completely wrong and shows belief in what is tantamount to old wives' tales. That's like saying humans can't fly or swim. When an egg floats in water, it only means for sure that the egg isn't fresh, nothing more.

#2. If you crack an egg and let it run into a fry pan, a fresh egg will run quickly and cleanly into the pan. It will have a fair amount of clear runny material associated with the white part. You'll also notice that both the white and yolk sit up high in the pan. Old eggs will have just a yolk and a white part, with no clear runny material. The older the egg, the more viscous the white part will be, so much so that it will be hard to get it to fully release from the shell. Also, eggs that are old tend to lay out flat in the pan as opposed to sitting up high.

#3. Old eggs have a well developed membrane around the inside of the shell. You'll notice with eggs that are many months old, the membrane is thick and difficult to separate, thus making the shell hard to open up once you've cracked it. If you're a one handed egg cracker, then you'll find it difficult to do this with old eggs -- you'll need two hands.

Photo below shows a thick membrane inside the egg shell. This is one sign of an old egg.

Egg membrane in old eggs is thick and prominent.
Large membrane indicate old eggs.

#4. As a confirmation, in conjunction with a thick membrane, you'll find a larger air pocket (perhaps the size of a quarter) in old eggs that won't be but the size of a dime in fresh eggs. Fresh eggs can have a thick membrane, but they'll never have a large air pocket inside of them.

See the especially large air pocket in the egg shell shown to the right. You've probably never seen such a large air pocket -- easily larger than a quarter -- because you've probably never cracked open an egg six to nine month old. As eggs age, moisture escapes and is replaced by air, hence the large air pocket.

Take a look at the photo below. It shows a couple of eggs that have been cracked open and display large air pockets. You'll also notice that the shell on the left has some of the white sticking to the shell a little like snot. This is characteristic of an egg that is older. With an egg that is perhaps nine months old, the white will be heavy and quite viscous at it has lost quite a bit of moisture over the many months in storage.

Large air pockets indicate old eggs, but that doesn't mean they're bad.

Uses for Old Eggs

So, if I have eggs that are old, what the heck can I use them for? The short answer is just about anything.

An egg that is old won't be unsuitable for cooking, baking, frying or poaching. It will work just fine, but be aware that it won't crack as easily as eggs that are fresh, and it won't come out of the shell quite so easily either.

If you like hard boiled eggs, the eggs that are older are particularly well suited for this. With a tougher membrane just inside the shell, and a well developed air pocket, eggs that are a couple of months old will peel much easier after they are hard boiled.

I have heard that some chefs recommend using eggs that are at least a week old for easier peeling, but I suggest that eggs a month old or older are better suited for this purpose.

Old eggs peel better when hard boiled.

So, if deviled eggs, sliced eggs or pickled eggs are in your future, you might lean toward using old eggs to make the job of peeling a little easier.

Using Old Eggs Warrants Some Caution

The older the egg, the more likely it is that it will be spoiled. The act of refrigeration is intended to delay spoilage, not prevent it, so eggs that are prone to spoilage will do so more readily, whether they're refrigerated or not.

To prevent using a spoiled egg in your fry pan or baking mixture, you can take a simple precaution -- crack it first in a separate container like a glass bowl -- so you can examine it before using. This approach dirties another dish, but it's better than cracking a spoiled egg into your flour and sugar and baking powder mixture and having to throw the whole thing out.

Photo below shows our technique of examining eggs in a glass bowl first, then adding it to the frying pan.

Pouring old eggs into the fry pan from a separate container helps to identify spoiled eggs.

Not to fear, if you harvested, cleaned and stored your eggs as suggested, the chance of a spoiled egg is minor, but with your eldest eggs, you might want to follow the precaution noted above. This is advised if you have eggs that are six months old or older. Those are what I would consider to be old eggs.

But, that's not the oldest of eggs that you might have and still have something edible. Would you believe that eggs last up to nine months? Believe it, because I've eaten eggs from my flock of chickens that have been stored in the refrigerator for nine months. Now, those are elderly eggs.

Done with Old Eggs, take me back to Backyard Chickens

Now that you know your old eggs are still good, let's get making some egg dishes. Here are eggs-perts to help you get cooking.