In a perfect world, your chickens would lay eggs in their nesting boxes each morning, you would collect them, bring them into the house and prepare them to eat. Mmmm, fresh eggs every day like clockwork!Of course, real life doesn't work quite like that. It seems it's either feast or famine around here - too many eggs or not enough. When you have extra eggs and they start to pile up, unless you mark or otherwise keep track of how old the eggs are, it's easy to lose track. Sometimes I even find an egg tucked in a corner of one of the nesting boxes that I previously missed.
If you let your chickens free range, you might stumble across a nest of eggs that a sneaky broody hen has hidden and have no idea when they were laid. These are affectionately called 'yard eggs' and perfectly fine to eat as long as they aren't cracked.
Of course if you have a rooster, they could be fertile and if the hen has been consistently sitting on them, they could be developing...but that's a topic for another post. If the hen is still amassing her clutch, they won't have started to develop yet.
Eggs will keep a lot longer than you probably realize. Generally, an egg will last unrefrigerated out on the counter at room temperature, unwashed, for at least two weeks. Unwashed and stored in the refrigerator, an egg will last a lot longer - more than three months. Even washed eggs will last for about two months in your refrigerator.
But when in doubt, just do the Float Test. It's simple. Just fill a clear glass with warm water and gently drop the egg in.
Freshly laid eggs will lie flat on the bottom of the glass.
|~Very fresh egg, probably not more than a few days old~|
As the egg ages and air seeps through the pores in the eggshell, the air sac inside the egg enlarges as the inside of the egg start to dry out. That causes one end of the egg to rise. By the time it's two to three weeks old, an egg will begin to lift up off the bottom of the glass. The egg is also losing valuable nutrients as it ages.
|~After a few weeks one end of the egg will start to rise off the bottom of the glass. Still perfectly good to eat~|
By the time the egg is two months old, it will be visibly angled in the glass, but still perfectly good to eat, and by three months the egg will mostly likely be standing straight up. However, as long as one end of the egg is still touching the bottom of the glass, the egg is fine; and while it won't taste as fresh, it will peel far better if you hard boil it.
|~Egg has visibly aged and air is entering through the pores. Still good to eat, but not fresh~|
Floating eggs have most likely gone bad and should be thrown out. Some dispute that and say they still might be good, but at the very least, they are extremely old and so much air (and possibly bad bacteria) has passed through the shell that the egg now floats. Some say you can still eat a floating egg, but why chance it? I would toss any egg that floats. If you're still in doubt, shake the egg. If you hear sloshing inside, it has gone bad and shouldn't be eaten.
|~Egg is now floating and has gone bad~|
So next time you discover a broody hen's cache, or aren't able to keep up with the egg supply in your refrigerator, don't throw the eggs away, just pop them into a glass of water before using them. Most likely they are perfectly good to use.
Remember tho, that dunking the eggs will remove the natural 'bloom' on the egg that keeps them fresh, so once you've done the Float Test on an egg you should use it right away.