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.
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[[Color: white hens lay white eggs, reddish broan hens lay brown eggs]]
...Um ... does anyone there at the USDA know anything about chickens? eggs? poulty?
Agriculture in general?
Talk about an ignorant statement.
White LEGHORNS lay white eggs, but then so do Black-tailed Red Laghorns.
Barred Plymouth Rocks lay brown eggs, but then so do White Rocks.
Americauna, of all colors, lay blue-green eggs.
Are you folks sure you're up to this?
Just curious what the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vislack thought about HAARP, and what he was planning to do about it. Its obvious this is what is causing climate change.
Thank you for your questions and comments on our egg fact blog. As you stated, different breeds of chickens produce eggs with shell pigments ranging in color from white through various shades of brown to a bluish-green color. Eggs of various colors are can be found at local egg markets and may be available direct from a farm with a heritage flock of egg-laying hens. Of course, heritage chickens have feathers of many different colors and produce many different pigments that affect the color of the egg shell from each breed.
Commercial egg producers and market surveys have identified that most consumers prefer eggs with white or brown shells. Through the application of genetic selection, the leghorn chicken with white feathers was selected as the principal breed for eggs with white shells.
To enhance the production of eggs with brown shells, various breeds with white, brown, and multi-colored feathers have been used over the years, resulting in the evolution of hens with white feathers mixed with some brown or grayish-brown feathers.
The characteristics of commercial egg laying hens will continue to change as scientists select genetic traits to achieve optimum egg production, enhance feed conversion, improve shell strength and quality, and increase the production cycle and livability of each breed.
Since the majority of consumers prefer eggs with brown or white shells and that is what they see in most commercial channels, our egg fact blog focused on direct answers that included egg facts that apply to the majority of eggs in the marketplace. Rather than stating the breed, feather color, and pigment color and intensity of the shell of various breeds of chickens, we chose to focus on the general color of the egg-laying hen’s feathers as it relates to the color of the shell of the egg produced by that class of hen. The purpose of the blog was to help educate consumers on the marketing claims, labels and prices they might find at their local stores. We apologize for any confusion.
I'd like to see the consumer educated, rather than given untrue facts. People understand there are different breeds of dogs, I'd like to think that consumers can understand that there are different breeds of chickens.
Maybe rather than saying that white chickens lay white eggs and brown chickens lay brown eggs, educating the the consumer about the difference betweeen commericial hens and heritage hens would help them understand marketing claims, labels and prices they find at their grocery stores? :)
Has the grading criteria changed over the years? When I look at eggs marked "jumbo" they don't seem like the jumbo eggs of years gone by. And I'm not just talking jumbo grade. I'm talking all grades. Maybe we have smaller chickens that can't lay BIG eggs. Ouch.
Hope I hear from you. Thanks
@Thomas R. Bertrand - thanks for the comment. The U.S. Grade Standards have remained the same for decades but some egg production methods have changed that may result in the changes you have noticed. In particular, many producers have switched to replacing their laying flock more frequently by bringing in a new flock of laying hens. The young hens start over in the egg laying process with small and medium sized eggs, working their way up to extra-large and jumbo sized eggs toward the end of their laying lifespan. As a result, more frequent replacement has meant chickens do not produce large size eggs for as long as they did in the past.
Are white eggs ever colored (painted or dyed) brown to increase their appeal?
What are current guidelines for Heritage claims?