When I visited a friend in England last March, she had her dozen eggs in a small cage-like container on the counter in the kitchen and when she offered to make me breakfast, I cringed at the idea of eggs being stored outside the refrigerator – like we do in the states. There is a reason for that I learned when I got back home, why we store eggs in refrigerators and Europeans don’t.
So, for the longest while after I got back, I couldn’t figure out what carton are eggs are the best to buy in the states? And if you happen to be concerned like myself, then read on or scan the bullet points below. Because it is always good to learn something new everyday. 😉
As long as they’re not cracked, almost all chicken eggs are kosher. Only broken eggs or eggs with blood spots aren’t kosher, and you’d probably notice that anyway.
Free-Range, Cage-Free, Pastured
Conventional egg-laying hens live in battery cages: cramped mesh cells that prevent hens from ever stretching their wings, nesting, or doing much at all beside produce eggs.
Free-range is better because chickens must have access to the outdoors. “Access” doesn’t mean chickens go outside any more than a gym membership means you go to the gym. Some free-range chickens roam freely on picturesque fields, but other chickens can only access a screened-in porch. Depends on the farm.
Cage-free only means that chickens aren’t kept in cages. But cage-free doesn’t always mean cruelty-free. Some studies suggest cage-free chickens have a higher mortality rate because, without cages, chickens peck each other to death, and disease spreads more easily.
Pastured is your safest bet. Usually pasture-raised hens actually live outdoors and eat a diet of seeds and insects that could improve the taste and nutrition of the eggs.
No Added Hormones
The FDA already outlaws hormones in poultry production. Check the asterisk on the carton. Any claim of hormone-free should be qualified by the statement: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
Pretty much the same goes for this one. Even though antibiotics are common in chicken feed, egg-laying hens rarely get medicated with antibiotics.
“Humane” is a subjective term. The Certified Humane seal (figure ZY) or Animal Welfare Approved (ZY) spell it all out. To be Certified Humane, egg producers must abide by a host of rules that ensure chickens live in decent conditions, following wonky stuff about monitoring for rodent activity, ventilation, and floor covering in nest boxes. Basically, there can’t be too many rats, and there needs to be some air flow, with a nice, cushy litter material to build nests.
Everything is natural because everything—even diesel fuel and Velveeta—comes from nature. The USDA clarifies that egg products are natural when they contain no artificial ingredients, added color, and are only minimally processed. Anything other than an Easter egg would probably qualify as natural.
Egg Grades: A, AA, or B
The USDA grades eggs AA, A, or B, with AA being the best, most uniform egg and B the most unsightly or somehow defective.
Critics argue that the grades are cosmetic because they don’t promise protection from salmonella, the most dangerous and common pathogen carried by eggs.
The USDA regulates “organic” and organic eggs must come from free-range chickens fed with 100% organic feed, meaning no administered antibiotics, no hormones, no arsenic, no poultry-slaughter byproducts. It’s a reliable standard, and usually a good indication that free-range requirements are enforced.
So what can we trust? First, find an egg company certified by outside boards: Vital Farms, Family Homestead, and Oliver’s Organic all have good reputations according to the Cornucopia Institute and Shop Ethical!, two respected consumer guides. Walmart, Target, and other big box stores carry Happy Egg Co. and Pete and Gerry’s, the largest of the free-range egg producers that has generally good ratings.