EDITOR’S NOTE: The standards covered by this 2012 blog have been updated. Read our updated cage-free standards & egg infographic: http://blogs.usda.gov/2016/09/13/usda-graded-cage-free-eggs-all-theyre-cracked-up-to-be/
Whether you prepare them for Easter dinner or as part of a Passover Seder Plate, eggs will certainly be the rave this weekend. Coupled with egg dyeing, decorating, or hunting, it’s likely that you will find yourself searching for eggs in the super market. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) wants to pass along some information to help make your trip to the store a success.
When strolling down the dairy aisle, you will see that the egg displays are full of several brands, each garnering various grading shields and marketing claims. Remembering a few key points will help you make an informed and egg-celent choice:
- Grade: Eggs are given grades (AA, A, or B) based on interior quality factors like defects and freshness, and exterior factors reflecting shell attributes. Grade A eggs have thick whites (Grade AA whites are slightly thicker) which do not spread easily, making them a preferred choice for frying. Meanwhile, Grade B eggs usually have thinner egg whites, making them ideal for cake mixes and omelets.
- Size: Eggs vary in size (Extra Large, Large, and Medium are the most common sizes in stores) based on their weight. The size markings on egg cartons tell the minimum net weight for a dozen eggs. If you are looking for more protein, you should choose a larger sized egg.
- Raising Claims: Many are concerned with the way egg-laying hens are raised. Here’s a quick definition for some popular claims. Eggs labeled “cage-free” or “from free-roaming hens” are laid by hens that are allowed to roam in a room or open area, which is typically a barn or poultry house. “Free-range” or “pasture-fed” eggs are produced by hens raised outdoors or with access to outdoors. In addition to the feed provided, these hens may also eat wild plants and insects.
- Natural: This term simply means that nothing was added to the egg. All eggs meet this criteria.
- Organic: Eggs marked with the USDA’s National Organic Program label come from uncaged hens that are free to roam in their houses and have access to the outdoors. The hens are fed an organic diet of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.
AMS wishes everyone a happy holiday that is packed with plenty of egg products. Please check out our infographic for some more egg-celent facts! We also suggest you visit the American Egg Board site for some creative recipes and other great egg information.