The question of how long eggs last doesn’t have as straight-forward an answer as you might expect—it depends not only on whether you refrigerate them, but when. Then there’s the option to freeze them, or even to store them on the counter (which is actually perfectly safe in some cases). Find out how to store eggs, how long they stay good, and how to tell if they’re fresh in one simple step.

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Eggs are a good source of inexpensive, high-quality protein and a necessary ingredient in most baked goods, so we always keep them on hand. However, proper handling and storage of eggs is necessary to prevent food-borne illnesses such as salmonella. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set regulations in place to help prevent contamination of eggs during shipping and storage, but it’s up to you to make sure eggs are properly stored once they get to your home. Follow the guidelines below to ensure your eggs stay fresh, and learn how long eggs last under various conditions.

How Long Will They Last?

Eggs have a fairly long shelf life under refrigeration. The Incredible Edible Egg says that eggs that are refrigerated will last about four to five weeks beyond the packing date.

All cartons of eggs sold in the U.S. have a three-digit code that indicates the packing date for the eggs. The code is listed as a Julian date (beginning with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365). Depending on the specific brand, the information will look slightly different on the carton, but it’s all there:

How to Store Them

It’s recommended to refrigerate eggs at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. It’s better to store them in their original carton on an inside shelf, not on the door. An inside shelf maintains a consistent temperature, whereas the door may not if you frequently open and close the fridge. Also, forgo the egg caddy and keep eggs in their cartons. Keeping them in the carton will not only protect them better, but it will prevent them from absorbing odors from pungent foods and prevent moisture loss.

You can also freeze eggs if you need to, and store them in the freezer for up to a year. Yes, eggs are freezable — but they require a little bit of prep work before they go into the deep freeze. The American Egg Board recommends removing the eggs from their shells before you freeze them. To freeze whole eggs, crack each egg separately into a bowl. Beat just until blended (try not to whip too much air into the mixture). Pour the egg mixture into freezer containers, seal and label with the number of eggs and date, then freeze. Thaw the same way you would milk.

How Long Can They Stay Out on the Counter?

The short answer for how long eggs can stay out on the counter is two hours for shelled eggs (i.e., raw) and hard-boiled eggs alike. Eggs that have been previously refrigerated (like the ones you purchase in a grocery store) need to be refrigerated as soon as possible after purchase. According to The Egg Safety Center, “maintaining a consistent, cool temperature is critical to safety.” Previously refrigerated eggs left on the counter at room temperature will sweat, creating an environment for bacteria growth. The Egg Safety Center states that previously refrigerated eggs should not be left out more than two hours before re-refrigeration.

Fresh eggs have their own set of guidelines. If you are raising your own chickens or buying eggs from your local chicken farmer, there’s not an immediate need to refrigerate the eggs. “Fresh eggs can be left out at room temperature for a week or two as long as they haven’t been washed or refrigerated at any point,” says author and 5th generation chicken keeper, Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily.

Lisa further explains that washing or refrigerating disturbs the integrity of the egg’s “bloom.” The ‘bloom” is the invisible natural protective coating on the surface of the eggshell that prevents bacteria and air from penetrating the eggshell. “An egg will last seven times longer in the refrigerator though,” says Lisa, “so any eggs not being eaten fairly soon, it’s best to chill.” Once you refrigerate the eggs, the same two hour rule applies if it is removed from refrigeration.

Following proper egg storage procedures will keep your eggs fresh. However, if you buy eggs from a local farmer and really want to know if your eggs are fresh—or if you suspect a bad egg in the bunch—Lisa has a quick test you can do.

“A fresh egg will sink in a glass of water and sit on the bottom,” she says. So place the egg in a glass of water and if it sinks, it’s fresh. If the egg sinks, but stands on one end at the bottom of the glass it’s not as fresh but is still edible. If it floats to the top of the glass, toss it. “As the egg ages, air penetrates the shell and the egg will begin to float on one end until its standing upright and then will finally float,” Lisa explains.

See it in action:

Remember, even if an egg passes the float test and is not past its expiration date, it’s still important to fully cook it to a safe temperature before you eat it.