Cracking the Code on Egg Labeling
Lately the media has been throwing out some ‘scrambled’ messages about eggs. The headlines claim that eating egg yolks is as bad for health as puffing on a cigarette. I know that none of you have ‘sucker’ tattooed on your forehead and that you aren’t believing all the hype – but just in case you need some reassurance here are a couple of great rebuttals and explanations. Let’s make a long story short – if you are debating between a pack-a-day smoking habit or a feast of a half dozen eggs – go with the yolks. That being said, some eggs are better than others and it’s important to remember that, when you’re choosing your carton. But with SO MANY labels – organic, pastured, natural, cage free, vegetarian fed, nutrient-enhanced – how can you be sure you’re getting the best option and what the heck do all those terms mean anyway? Well, wonder no more! Here is your guide to ‘cracking’ the carton codes!
Don’t be fooled by this one! Just because the hens aren’t in cages doesn’t mean they’re outside. The chickens can be ‘uncaged’ in a barn, warehouse, etc., but there are no promises that the birds see the sun or as to what they are fed. Additionally, there are NO standards or auditing to ensure ‘cage free’ compliance. Bottom line: Not your best option.
Like ‘cage free’, this label doesn’t guarantee that the hens have ever seen the light of day – again the birds are ‘uncaged’ but can be contained inside. This label is a step up, however because there ARE requirements for such things as stocking density, number of perches and laying boxes. Compliance is audited by a third party to ensure guidelines are being followed. Bottom Line: Better than ‘cage free’. Look for this label!
Exactly what it implies! These hens got some action (sort of). Eggs with this label were laid by ‘chicks’ that live with roosters. This implies that they most likely were not caged. Bottom Line: If it’s the only label on the carton – keep looking.
Free Range/Free Roaming:
There are USDA standards for ‘free range’ poultry, but eggs are another story. When the carton says ‘free range’ it most often means that the egg layers are uncaged while inside and have access to the outdoors. Frequency, duration and outdoor conditions are not specified and there are no guidelines as to what the cluckers are fed. Bottom Line: Well, they’ve at least had the pleasure of seeing the sun…
If you see this label on the carton it means that the girls weren’t fed any animal protein. It makes no guarantees as to the hens living conditions or treatment. Bottom Line: It’s not telling us much. If it’s the only label on the carton – keep looking.
How the heck do they get the omega-3’s in the egg – there aren’t any ‘holes’ in the shell?? Eggs that have been ‘enriched’ with omega-3 fatty acids or other nutrients (vitamin E, etc) come from birds that have been given feed with these components. In the case of omega-3’s the chow was likely laced with flax, algae, or fish oil. Bottom Line: Yes, these eggs do contain ‘more’ omega-3’s, etc. – but often the amounts are insignificant. A better option than ‘plain label’ supermarket eggs.
United Egg Producers Certified:
This is a voluntary program, audited by a third party, that most of the United States egg industry complies to. This certification is not all it’s ‘cracked’ up to be and permits inhumane and cruel factory farm practices. Let’s just say, this doesn’t mean that the ‘girls’ are happy. They are only guaranteed a cage space roughly the size of a piece of paper (it can be larger – but it must be at least that big). The ‘cage conditions’ aren’t specified and seeing the sun is no guarantee. Bottom Line: It isn’t saying much…
This basically means NOTHING! There are no guidelines or definitions surrounding the term – basically, the egg came out of a bird. End of story. Bottom Line: The egg was not grown in a petri-dish; that is all.
If this label leaves you with a vision of poultry running free on the prairie – pinch yourself; that’s not the reality. Eggs that are ‘pasture raised’ come from hens that eat feed from pastures. The ‘laying ladies’ may very well be roaming the land, but might also be kept in pens on the pasture or held in fenced areas. Did your grandparents have chickens in the backyard? Those could be called ‘pasture raised’. Bottom Line: This one isn’t too bad.
This term has absolutely nothing to do with a pasture, but rather tells us that the eggs underwent ‘pasteurization’ to kill bacteria. Once ‘picked’ eggs are given a warm water bath to kill any bugs and the shells are coated with wax to prevent cross-contamination. Bottom Line: Pasteurized eggs are commonly used in hospitals and nursing homes to prevent food borne illness. If you eat raw eggs or prepare uncooked foods using eggs (egg nog, paleo mayo, etc) and are at high risk for food borne illness this might be a label to look for.
White vs. Brown:
This is an EASY one – vanilla and chocolate, DUH! I’m just ‘yolk’ing around – that really ‘cracked’ me up! Seriously though, there is really not a lot of difference between the two. The color of the egg is determined by the breed of chicken that did the laying. Brown eggs come from dark colored hens with red earlobes and white eggs from white hens with white earlobes. Brown eggs are more expensive, not because they are ‘better’ but because brown hens tend to be larger and need more food. Bottom Line: Regardless of what you’ve been told – the flavor is the same. Sorry, no chocolate eggs. Unless you have a thing for brown; save your money.
Organic is a term that is defined by the USDA. Hens laying ‘organic’ eggs are fed chow that has little to no exposure to pesticides, herbicides, commercial fertilizers and/or fungicides. Keep in mind that ALL eggs (organic or not) are hormone free. Organic on the label tells us nothing about the treatment or conditions that the hens were exposed to. Bottom Line: Less chemical load with these guys – it’s a label to look for.
So, there you have it, hopefully that helps solve your egg carton conundrum or at least tells you what all the labels mean. What ‘egg’actly should you be looking for? Eggs labeled with ‘pasture-raised or ‘free farmed’, certified humane/American Humane Certified and organic are the big ones when dealing with supermarket eggs. If the carton says locally raised, farm fresh, chemical free or beyond organic; do your homework. Contact the provider, request a tour or visit their website, investigate the hens living conditions, and food supply before assuming that they are ‘good eggs’.
Don’t let shopping for eggs ‘fry’ you. ‘Unscramble’ the labels and you’ll know ‘egg’actly what your eggs are ‘cracked’ up to be!