This is the secret meaning behind the numbers on your egg carton

Chances are you almost always have eggs in your fridge. Whether baked, scrambled, or poached, they’re one of the most versatile items on the grocery list. You might think the best way to pick a carton is by checking the grade, size, and expiration date—this is what best-by, use-by, and sell-by dates really mean, by the way—but there’s a secret, more efficient way to tell how fresh your eggs are.

Interested? Keep reading.

How to decode your egg carton

On the side of your egg carton, right by (or below) the “Sell By” date, you’ll see a three-digit code. No, it’s not an arbitrary serial number; it’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 fridge for four to five weeks. Psst! Here’s how long your other grocery staples will last.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 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. Eew! If you’re not too grossed out yet, learn the truth about the age of supermarket apples.

RELATED: Egg recipes to try tonight

61 PHOTOS
Good Eats: 61 egg recipes
See Gallery
Good Eats: 61 egg recipes

Bacon, Tomato and Cheddar Breakfast Bake with Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Lemon, Parsley and Parmesan Plus Bread, Prosciutto and Egg by Martha Stewart

Get the recipe here.

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Pizza by Kitchen Daily Editors

Get the recipe here.    

Veggie Breakfast Sandwich by Jelly Toast

Get the recipe here.

Crab Cake Eggs Benedict with Bacon Hollandaise by Domestic Fits | Jackie Dodd

Get the recipe here.

Eggs Baked in Roasted Tomato Sauce by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Roasted Red Pepper and Kale Frittata by Martha Stewart

Get the recipe here.

Soft Scrambled Eggs with Smoky Seasonings & Chives by Home Skillet | Jenn & Seth Kendall

Get the recipe here.

Bacon & Egg Rolls with Almond & Chili Pesto by Simply Delicious | Alida Ryder

Get the recipe here.

Mini Hash Brown Quiche by Garnish & Glaze | Melanie Dueck

Get the recipe here.

Baked Eggs in a Basket by An Edible Mosaic | Faith Gorsky

Get the recipe here.

Southwestern Spicy Frittata by Kitchen Belleicious | Jessica Maher

Get the recipe here.

Chicken Hash with Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Eggs Benedict Waffle by The Daily Meal

Get the recipe here.

Brunch Time Asparagus Spaghetti with Baked Egg by Bacon Egg & Cheese{cake} | Shelley Liu

Get the recipe here.

Ratatouille Toasts with Fried Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Eggs Benedict with Manchego, Tomatoes, & Proscuitto and a Sage Hollandaise Sauce by Adventures in Cooking

Get the recipe here.

Smothered Cauliflower with Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Shirred Eggs with Ham and Tomato by Kitchen Daily Editors

Get the recipe here.

Poached Eggs with Bacon Crumbs and Spinach by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Poached Eggs Parmesan by Michael Symon's 5 in 5 | Michael Symon

Get the recipe here.

Mini Egg, Rice and Spinach Frittata Muffins by Belleicious Kids | Jessica Maher

Get the recipe here.

Mini Quail Eggs in Prosciutto Nests by Martha Stewart

Get the recipe here.

Chicken Sausage and Egg Breakfast Cups by Organize Yourself Skinny | Tammy Kresge

Get the recipe here.

Cheesy Kale Prosciutto Brunch Melts with Eggs by The Woks of Life 

Get the recipe here.

Avocado, Tomato and Feta Toast with Poached Eggs by The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen | Susan Palmer

Get the recipe here.

Potato Coins with Fried Eggs by Taking On Magazines | Christiane B. Potts

Get the recipe here.

Raw Asparagus Salad with Tomatoes and Hard-Boiled Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Get the recipe here

Cheesy English Muffins with Smoky Balsamic Red Pepper Compote and Fried Eggs by An Edible Mosaic

Get the recipe here.

Easy Frittata with Greens and Cheese by Eating Made Easy | Amelia Winslow

Get the recipe here.

Churrasco (Ecuadorian Steak) and Eggs with Green Chili Sauce
by Hola Jalapeño | Kate Ramos

Get the recipe here.

Get the recipe here

Cold Soba and Cucumber Noodles with Soft-Boiled Eggs by Brooklyn Vegetarian | Amy Jennings

Get the recipe here

Grilled Cheese Egg in the Hole Sandwich by I Bake He Shoots | Mondo Fowler

Get the recipe here.

Butternut Squash and Apple Frittata with Bacon and Cheese by The Usual Bliss | Amber Howe 

Get the recipe here.

Egg in a Basket with Smoked Turkey and Asparagus by Weeknight Wonders | Ellie Krieger

Get the recipe here.

Leftover Baked Eggs and Chili Eggs by Bacon Egg & Cheese{cake} | Shelley Liu

Get the recipe here.

Grilled Asparagus with Pecorino and Meyer Lemon-Poached Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Charred Tomatoes with Fried Eggs on Garlic Toast by Martha Stewart

Get the recipe here.

Frittata with Pea Shoots and Bacon by Jelly Toast

Get the recipe here.

Fried Egg-and-Bacon Puff Pastry Squares by Martha Stewart

Get the recipe here.

Hummus Deviled Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt, Eggs, and Mint by Kitchen Daily Editors

Get the recipe here.

Egg-and-Tomato Breakfast Sandwich to Go by Martha Stewart

Get the recipe here.

Mascarpone Scrambled Eggs with Garlic Toasts by Taking On Magazines | Christiane B. Potts

Get the recipe here.

Crustless Asparagus Quiche by Chez Us | Denise Woodward and Lenny Ferreira

Get the recipe here.

Toasted Beer Cornbread with Avocado, Crispy Pancetta and Poached Eggs by Hola Jalapeño | Kate Ramos

Get the recipe here.

Spring Vegetable Frittata by Whipperberry

Get the recipe here.

Potato & Corn Frittata by Kitchen Daily Editors

Get the recipe here.

Pork Roll, Egg and Bagel Grilled Cheese by Grilled Cheese Social | Mackenzie Smith

Get the recipe here.

Baked Mexican Eggs by Eatori | Tori Haschka

Get the recipe here.

Potato and Egg Tacos by Campbell's Kitchen

Get the recipe here.

Fried Egg with Kale Pesto by Home Skillet | Jenn & Seth Kendall

Get the recipe here.

Taylor Pork Roll, Egg and Cheese on an English Muffin by Grilling 24x7 | John Thomas

Get the recipe here.

Mushroom and Scallion Frittata by Martha Stewart

Get the recipe here.

Truffled Garlic Egg Brioches by Eatori | Tori Haschka

Get the recipe here.

North Indian-Style Scrambled Eggs by A Brown Table | Nik Sharma

Get the recipe here.

Sriracha-and-Wasabi Deviled Eggs by Food & Wine

Get the recipe here.

Sweet Potato Crust Quiche by Live and Love to Eat | Claire Marshall

Get the recipe here.

Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon by Kitchen Daily Editors

Get the recipe here.

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

So, why does it matter?

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. And when you eat old, expired eggs, your risk of getting a food-borne disease from them increases.

As for the code starting with a “P” right next to the Julian date? That’s the plant code, which represents where the eggs were packaged. If there’s an egg recall, the plant code will determine whether your carton is included.

Look, we know how stressful grocery shopping can be, but checking the Julian date is an extra step worth taking. If you don’t want to whip out your calendar and calculator (we don’t blame you), here’s a general rule of thumb to follow. If you’re buying eggs in early to mid January, look for lower numbers (015 will be significantly fresher than 364). If you’re buying eggs later in the year, look for the highest number possible.

Now that you know how to select your eggs, the next step is to break them. Why not try these tasty hacks for awesome scrambled eggs? Bon appétit!

The post This Is the Secret Meaning Behind the Numbers on Your Egg Carton appeared first on Reader's Digest.

Related: What you didn't know about eggs

16 PHOTOS
15 Things You Didn't Know About Eggs
See Gallery
15 Things You Didn't Know About Eggs

Eggs are a tremendous ingredient to add to just about any meal. Since they can be prepared in so many ways, read on for more information on the versatile treat.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Water Can Determine If An Egg Is Still Good.

If you place an egg in a tall glass of water and it sinks, then it is safe to eat because it means that the yolk is still heavy. Egg yolks shrink as they age and this creates air bubbles. If the egg floats, then it is time to throw it out.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Egg World Records

Howard Helmer, a former American Egg Board representative holds three Guinness World Records for omelet making. Helmer has won for making 427 omelets in 30 minutes and has made the fastest single omelet taking 42 seconds (from whole egg to omelet). He has also completed 30 omelet flips in 34 seconds.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Eggs Can Stand.

It is said that during the vernal equinox around March 21when the sun crosses the equator, making day and night equal everywhere, it is possible to stand an egg.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Expiration Dates Aren't Exactly Right.

The expiration or sell by date on an egg carton doesn’t necessarily determine when an egg will go bad. The best by or use by date will better assess the quality of the eggs.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Spinning Can Determine An Egg's State.

You can spin an egg to tell if it is raw or hard-boiled. Since the hard-boiled egg is filled with solids rather than liquids it will spin easily. A raw egg will wobble because the liquids are still present.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Eggs Are A Good Hangover Cure.

This is due to their high content of cysteine, which helps to break down the cause of the hangover, acetaldehyde. Eggs also help to get rid of the toxins that alcohol leaves behind.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Eggs Come From Other Birds.

Chickens aren’t the only birds who lay eggs. Eggs can come from emu, goose, ostrich, duck or quail.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Eggs Aren't Only White.

Chicken eggs come in more colors than white and brown. Different breeds of chickens produce different colors. Some eggs can even appear blue, blue-green, reddish brown or speckled.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Hens Lay A Lot Of Eggs.

An average hen can lay 250 to 279 eggs per year.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Good Source Of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is generally associated with the sun, but you can get 10 percent of your daily intake by eating an egg.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Synthetic Eggs Are On The Rise.

A San Francisco start-up is trying to make egg-less mayonnnaise and other egg-less products.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Eggs Have A Lot Of Pores.

Eggs have 7 to 17,000 tiny pores on their shells. They also can absorb odors in the fridge, so make sure to keep them in the carton.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Yolk Color Is Determined By Diet.

The plant pigments in a hen's feed affect the color in the yolk in a certain way. Natural yellow or orange substances like marigold petals can be used to enhance the color of the yolk.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Most Eggs Come From...

China! In China, approximately 160 billion eggs are produced a year, while the US produces about 65 billion eggs a year.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Eggs Contain Almost All Essential Vitamins.

Eggs have all the essential vitamins you need except for Vitamin C, and they also contain all the essential proteins and minerals that your body needs.

Image Credit: Getty Images

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story