I’ve had many jobs in my life, but none as challenging or rewarding as my career as a shell egg grader. With a cumulative 22 years grading eggs in Ohio, I’ve witnessed first-hand the evolution of an industry. I have also watched my agency – USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – adapt right alongside the industry, maintaining valuable, unbiased grading and certification services that support marketing opportunities for American agriculture in a global marketplace.
Last year, shell egg graders with the AMS Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program’s Quality Assessment Division (QAD) assisted the U.S. egg industry in exporting over 99.5 million dozen shell eggs to customers as far away as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and as near as Canada, Mexico, Central America, and Puerto Rico.
Since 2013, I’ve been stationed at Weaver Brothers Eggs in Ohio (home of the 65th Annual Versailles Poultry Days this year). This fourth-generation family-owned company runs an efficient, fast-paced operation with two machines capable of handling 900 cases an hour combined, and packs a variety of products, including Grade AA and Grade A eggs, retail cartons with the U.S. Grade shield, cases for foodservice customers, and lots of eggs certified for export.
Throughout 2015 and into April of this year, along with the sampling and official grading of product to the U.S. Grades and Standards for shell eggs, I’ve certified Weaver Brothers’ product for export to Canada. AMS certification ensures the product destined for Canada consistently meets specific quality and food safety attributes. Export requirements can be different for each country, and they often go beyond just the quality attributes of the egg itself.
While the Canada export product doesn’t require official grades, the specifications have very detailed requirements for dirty or leaking eggs, and for labeling and preparation for shipment (for example, palletizing and wrapping the flats of eggs). The information on the labels has to be in both French and English, and every pallet must be labeled with a USDA Graded for Export stamp.
Since the start of Fiscal Year 2016, we’ve certified 205 truckloads of shell eggs for export to Canada at this facility alone – that’s over four million dozen eggs! Every truckload is accompanied by a USDA certificate signed by the USDA grader like myself, as well as a company certificate of conformance that the product originates from a Salmonella Enteritidis (SE)-free flock.
Consistently meeting export requirements is important to the U.S. egg industry as it provides the highest level of assurance to their customers that the products being imported are safe, wholesome, and ready for distribution or use.
From grading eggs and checking loads of product, to writing certificates and working with plant management, a day in the life of this USDA grader is never a dull one! Reflecting on my years as a USDA grader, I am proud of the work USDA graders do and of AMS’ commitment to and support of American agriculture.