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USDA Graded Cage-Free Eggs: All They're Cracked Up To Be

When it comes to purchasing eggs, consumers have interests that go well beyond what they see in the carton.  For many buyers, where that egg came from and how it was produced are just as important as the finished product.  Organic, locally produced, cage-free, and free range are just a few of the marketing claims consumers will find on the carton, as producers try to communicate the attributes of their product.  To provide additional assurance to their customers of the validity of marketing claims, shell egg producers often enlist the services of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

In recent months, a long list of large volume food buyers – including restaurants, grocers, distributors and more – have announced they will transition to sourcing eggs and egg products only from cage-free production systems.  You can learn more about this trend in a recent USDA Blog post.  Many shell egg suppliers have already found a way to assure customers that products marketed as cage-free are indeed sourced from such systems: when USDA Graded eggs are also identified as cage-free, they must undergo a review process to verify the claim is truthful.

Supporting U.S. Egg Exports - All in a Day's Work for a USDA Egg Grader

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.

Egg-ucating the Chefs of Tomorrow

When embarking on their culinary careers, great chefs recognize that the key to creating delicious food is staying true to their ingredients.  At the heart of these truths is, “Good in; good out.”  If they put the best ingredients into cooking, they’ll get the best food out of them.  But with so many product and ingredient choices at their fingertips, how can they be sure they’re picking the best quality ingredients available?

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) takes the guesswork out of that process by developing, maintaining and interpreting specific measurements of quality through U.S. standards and grades for a wide variety of agricultural products.  AMS also offers voluntary services to producers and suppliers to certify products to those standards.