With their secure lid and uniform compartments, it seems a shame to toss out a used egg carton. While they are perfect for storing and protecting eggs, so many ways to reuse them also come to mind. Just browse around Pinterest, where there are dozens of boards dedicated to egg carton crafts!
While it sounds ideal to repurpose them, food safety experts offer caution. Commercial egg farmers follow the FDA’s Egg Safety Rule, so they wash and sanitize eggs before packing them in clean, new cartons, eliminating bacteria that may have been present on the shell. But bacteria could creep back into the picture as eggs are handled at stores and in homes.
The rising popularity of backyard flocks and locally-grown eggs has prompted safety officials to urge people to pay attention to egg packaging – particularly, in raising concerns about reusing cartons from eggs purchased at grocery stores. Reusing cartons also means the expiration and packing dates on cartons will not be accurate for the new eggs.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is clear on the subject, saying items such as foam meat trays, convenience food dishes and egg cartons should be considered one-time-use packaging.
“Bacteria from foods that these packages once contained may remain on the packaging and thus be able to contaminate foods or even hands if reused,” says FSIS on its web site. In California, the state Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recommends not reusing egg cartons because of “health risks.”
How can egg packaging be handled responsibly? Cardboard cartons may be recycled along with other paper products, torn into pieces and composted or used to start seedlings in the early Spring before transferring plants to the garden. Styrofoam is recyclable in some parts of the country. One egg company offers a way for people to send used polystyrene containers back to an egg carton manufacturer for recycling.
What does the Egg Safety Center recommend? It’s a good idea to discard used egg cartons and not reuse them. Recycle them, if you can.