How to Tell if an Egg Is Bad

Want to know how to tell if an egg is bad? The float test is a quick way to see if the eggs in your refrigerator are fresh enough to use.

When you buy eggs at the grocery store, you can usually assume they’re fresh—or at least, fresh enough to use. You just need to know how to decipher those numbers on your egg carton. But even if you unpack your eggs from the original carton or buy eggs from a local farmer, there are still easy ways to tell if an egg is bad.

If you test your eggs for freshness, it can be safe to eat “expired” eggs.

How to Tell if Eggs Are Good

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The good news is that badly spoiled eggs are easy to detect as soon as you crack them open. The bad news is that the sulfur smell of an “off” egg is one you won’t soon forget.

The great news is that there are ways to tell whether your eggs are usable or not without having to break the shell (which is the only thing standing between you and that rotten egg smell).

Do the float test

This low-tech method for how to tell if an egg is bad has been used for generations. It’s as easy as pouring a glass of water.

You see, bad eggs float. It has to do with the way moisture evaporates through the shell as eggs age. As that moisture decreases, the air bubble inside the shell grows. One way to test this is to hold the egg to your ear and shake it: If you hear the egg sloshing around, that’s a bad sign. But if you gently place the egg in a glass or bowl of water, you can see how fresh the egg is.

The air bubble will be at the narrow end of the egg—you can tell how fresh your egg is by how it settles in the water.

  • If the egg lies horizontally, it’s at its freshest.
  • If the narrow end of the egg tilts upward, the egg is still usable, but not quite as fresh. An egg that tilts would be good to use for meringue, because older eggs make better meringue.
  • If the egg stands upright (but is still at the bottom of the container), it’s past its peak, but is still safe—use these eggs for baking or when you’re making hard-boiled eggs.
  • And if the egg floats? Get rid of it.

It’s as simple as that!

Do the candling test

Another way to check your egg is the candling test. You need to be in a dark room, then use a  bright flashlight to take a closer look at the shell. If cracks in the shell are visible when candling, throw it out. The cracks may create an opportunity for bacteria to access the inside of the egg.

Check for discoloration and egg consistency

When you crack open the egg, if there are flecks of green, pink, black or any other color that isn’t yellow or orange for the yolk and clear (or clear but cloudy) for the white, play it safe and toss the egg.

You can check the consistency of the egg white, too. While a white is supposed to be runnier than the yolk, if it’s much runnier than usual, just know that the egg is a bit older. It’s not a sign to run for the hills, but be wary.

Do the sniff test

Your last line of defense (but probably the most obvious) should be the sniff test. If an egg passes all of the other tests but smells like sulfur, you should toss it. Don’t forget to crack your eggs individually into a bowl before adding them to the rest of the ingredients!

How to Keep Eggs from Going Bad

It’s best to keep eggs in the refrigerator, where they’ll be good for 4 to 5 weeks. Be sure to store eggs on a shelf in the fridge, rather than in the door—eggs in the door experience more temperature fluctuation and will go bad faster. Experts also recommend storing eggs with the pointy end down and the blunt end up.

For food safety reasons, do not keep eggs on the counter at home for more than 2 hours.

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Hazel Wheaton
Hazel is a writer and editor who has worked in the publishing industry for over 25 years in the fields of travel, jewelry arts and food. As the editor of the Taste of Home Christmas Annual (among other titles), she's in the holiday spirit all year round. An enthusiastic baker, she's known for her cookies, cakes and other baked goods. And she still wishes she could cook like her mother.