What You Might Not Know about Eggs: Decoding Egg Production - Food Dialogues

What you might not know about eggs: Decoding egg production

Sometimes, the people who help get us through life everyday (farmers) don’t have the opportunity to tell us everything they want us to know about their livelihood. For example, do you know the difference between cage-free, free-range and organic eggs? Following is a list of facts about eggs, straight from the source: your egg farmer.

What’s the difference between cage-free, free-range and organic eggs versus traditional egg production? Here are the facts straight from the egg farmers, the American Egg Board and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association:

Conventional Eggs
Conventional eggs come from hens that nest and lay eggs in cages that have adequate access to food, water and protection, from external hazards, disease and natural and unnatural predators. It is important to note that conventional eggs are produced according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, which regulates the methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling eggs safely.

Free-range eggs
Free-range eggs come from hens that have access to the outdoors, depending on weather, environmental or state laws. Aside from consuming a diet of grains, these chickens have access to wild plants and insects and are often referred to as pasture-fed hens. They also have floor space, nesting space and perches.

Cage-free eggs
Cage-free eggs come from hens that lay eggs in indoor operations. They are also referred to as free-roaming chickens. The hens may roam in a building, room or an open area, (usually a barn or poultry house), with unlimited access to fresh food and water. Some may also search for food if they are allowed outdoors. It is important to note that cage-free systems vary and may include barn-raised and free-range hens. But both have shelters to protect hens against predators, and are under common handling practices, which also provide floor space, nesting space and perches.

Organic Eggs
Organic-labeled eggs are produced according to the national U.S. Department of Agriculture organic standards, which also considers the methods, practices and substances used in producing and handling eggs, crops, livestock and agricultural products. Organic eggs are produced by hens which have been fed food with ingredients that are grown without most conventional pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers. However, organic doesn’t mean pesticide free, it simply means that the feed is produced with approved pesticides.

What’s the difference between AA grade, large, small eggs?

It is important to know that eggs are graded based on their quality and appearance, however, the grade of egg has no impact on its nutrition. It is very unlikely though that you would see a grade B egg in the grocery store.

Grade B Eggs:
As far as exterior grading, all eggs have to be clean to pass inspection, but a grade B egg is allowed to have a little staining. Grade B eggs could also have abnormal shells (misshaped, ridges, thin spots or rough spots). When looking at the interior for grading, they look at the air cell. For example, higher-grade eggs have a shallower/smaller air cell.

Grade AA Eggs:
Grade AA eggs have thick, firm whites and high, round yolks. Their shells are clean and unbroken.

Grade A Eggs:
Grade A eggs are like Grade AA, but their whites are “reasonably” firm. Grade A eggs are usually sold in stores.

There are a number of sizes of eggs that have been set by the USDA guidelines that are based on weight of the egg.

Weight per dozen:
•Small: 18 ounces (about 1.5 ounce per egg)
•Medium: 21 ounces (about 1.75 ounce per egg)
•Large: 24 ounces (about 2 ounces per egg)
•Extra-Large: 27 ounces (about 2.25 ounces per egg)
•Jumbo: 30 ounces (about 2.5 ounces per egg)

What’s the difference between white and brown eggs?

There are no nutritional differences between white and brown eggs. However, because brown eggs costs more there is the assumption that they are better. The difference exists only due to the different breeds of chickens. For instance, there are chickens that interestingly, lay green and blue eggs! But it’s while the egg journeys through the hen’s oviduct, that all eggs are white until right before the egg exits the chicken. Afterward, a colored coating is applied to the egg (like a paint job) right before the egg is laid.

Next time you visit the grocery store, use this guide to provide you with the knowledge you need to make an informed decision!

Want to know more about eggs? Here are some wonderful resources:



Videos from USPOULTRY on labeling: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzh0TnoT7JfodfnZ5CSXaJcV-2HhDZJyp
Infographic: http://www.uspoultry.org/t_resources/assets/DecipheringTheLabel_graphic.png