Every time we walk into the grocery store, we come face-to-face with a flood of information on food labels. I once spent five minutes reading milk carton labels at the grocery store before an employee saw the look of confusion on my face and offered to help. Who knew there were so many choices when it came to buying a simple staple item?
Eggs are no different. The available options can seem endless. Let’s take a look at what all those labels mean.
Brown vs white: This refers to the color of the shell, which has nothing to do with the nutritional value of the egg. Simply put, hens with white feathers and white ear lobes lay white eggs and hens with red feathers and red ear lobes lay brown eggs.
Conventional: You won’t see the word conventional on the carton, but these eggs were produced under standard growing conditions where the eggs were laid by hens in enclosures that also serve as nesting space.
Sell-by date: This date is included on cartons to ensure eggs don’t stay on the shelves past a certain date. Remember, the eggs are safe to eat for two to three weeks beyond this date. Additionally, most eggs leave the farm within 24 to 36 hours after being laid.
Cage-free: These eggs were laid by hens that are free to roam around a building, room, or open area that includes nesting spaces and perches.
Free-range: Eggs are laid by hens with access to the outdoors. The hens are fed grains and may also forage for wild plants and insects.
Certified organic: Eggs are laid by cage-free or free-range hens raised on certified organic feed along with access to wild plants and insects. These farms are certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Pasteurized: These eggs were heated to a temperature just below coagulation to destroy harmful pathogens.
Pasture-raised: While not a label recognized by the USDA, these eggs are laid by hens who roam and forage on a maintained pasture area.
Enriched colony: Eggs are laid by hens in enclosures that include perch space, dust bathing, scratch areas and nesting space.
Omega-3 enriched: The hens that lay these eggs are fed a special diet rich in omega-3 fats. These eggs provide from 100 mg to more than 600 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per egg.
Vegetarian-fed: These hens were fed a vegetarian diet.
Non-GMO: While this label may appear on egg cartons, the USDA has declared that eggs in their shells are not a genetically modified food. Additional research has confirmed that none of the genetically modified materials that may appear in hen’s feed are passed into the egg.
No antibiotics: Antibiotics are not used on a continuous basis in the egg industry. In general, all eggs are considered antibiotic-free. When antibiotics are used to treat sickness in hens (by FDA guidelines), hens rarely produce eggs or their egg production is severely decreased.
No added hormones: All eggs produced in the United States are “all-natural,” as no hormones are ever given to egg-laying hens.
Now go forth and impress your friends with your eggceptional knowledge about labels on egg packaging.
Source: American Egg Board