Skip to main content

grade standards

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.

A Momentous Change is Underway in the Egg Case

Have you been to a supermarket to buy a carton of eggs lately?  If so, you may have found an array of food marketing claims on the packages.  All natural, organic, cage-free, pasture-raised, free range, non-GMO, raised without antibiotics, Omega-3 enriched and vegetarian-fed diet are just a small sample of the many claims consumers might see in the egg case. The modern food shopper is inundated by choice.

From its inception, the role of AMS has been to facilitate an efficient, fair, and competitive marketing system to benefit producers and consumers.  One of the ways AMS accomplishes this is by establishing and applying grade standards to different agricultural products. Terms such as “Grade A” and “Large” have become a trusted part of the American egg vocabulary, helping both farmers and consumers with descriptive labels. Other marketing terms that now appear on egg cartons have evolved to reflect consumers’ demand to understand things like where the eggs come from, how chickens were raised and who raised them.

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.

A Carton of Eggs - A True Baker's Dozen

 

The holiday season is a busy time of year for bakers and chefs.  From egg nog and cookie exchanges to fruit cakes and meringue pies, increased baking and gift-giving means you’ll need to know just what to look for when you buy one of your key ingredients…eggs. When shopping for eggs, consumers should look for the USDA Grade shield, for the ultimate assurance of quality.  For best results for pastries and baked goods, pay attention to the freshness of your eggs.

USDA grading of shell eggs is a voluntary service paid for by shell egg producers.  Eggs sold to consumers must be labeled with a grade.  Eggs that are not labeled with a USDA Grade Shield have not been officially graded by USDA standards.  Only eggs meeting strict USDA standards are allowed to be marketed with the USDA Grade Shield on the package.  Egg packers who do not use the USDA grading service may put terms such as “Grade AA” or “Grade A” on their cartons, but they may not use the USDA Grade Shield.

Let's Talk Turkey about USDA Poultry Grades

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it is the perfect time to learn more about the quality grade standards for poultry products and the “Grade A” shield you might find on the label of your family’s main dish.  Most consumers are familiar with the USDA beef grades – Prime, Choice and Select.  But did you know USDA has similar grade standards for Poultry products?

The USDA grade shields are reputable symbols of quality American poultry products.  Large-volume buyers such as grocery stores, military institutions, restaurants, and even foreign governments use the quality grades as a common “language” within the poultry industry, making business transactions easier.