Eggstra Confusing Egg Labels

Author: Meera, December 11, 2013


Some chickens have caged runs, but are also allowed free-range foraging

Some chickens have caged runs, but are also allowed to free-range forage




Just because an egg is organic and from a cage-free chicken does not mean the eggs are free from Salmonella Enteritidis (the bacteria that causes the foodborne illness) or that the chickens producing the eggs live free of confinement.



Supermarkets carry dozens of eggs with labels like pasteurized or organic and also free-range, cage-free, or vegetarian. Consumers can find it confusing, so here’s the low-down on eggs and their labels.




This term relates to how the chicken is confined. The chickens are not raised in cages but may be confined in barns with floors. The floors may have pine shavings or other material and the chickens will likely have nesting boxes in which to lay eggs and roosts. But cage free does not necessarily mean they have lots of space; they could be living in close confinement with many other birds, depending on the farm.




In order to get the USDA certification for organic on the eggs, the chickens must not be given hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs. The hens can be caged or otherwise confined, but usually they are cage free and eat an organic diet. The USDA stipulates that to qualify as organic eggs, the layers must be fed an organic diet of grains from land deemed free from toxic chemicals and pesticide for a minimum of three years and no grain from genetically-modified crops.




Chickens considered free range are able to leave their confinement and roam freely. Depending on the farm, the birds may be under a protective covering like a canopy. This keeps the flyers from escaping and the hawks from carrying away the birds. Free-range chickens might have a richer diet, again depending on the farm, because of greater access to freely foraging on grasses, grains, and seeds.




How, you might wonder, can a chicken be deemed vegetarian when they naturally forage for grubs and worms? They are confined in cages and fed a vegetarian diet, free of animal and fish by-products.




The eggs containing a pasteurized label have been put through a heating process while still in their shells. For three and one-half minutes, the eggs are heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, thereby killing the Salmonella bacteria. Pasteurized eggs are preferable for the diet of young children, elderly people, and those who have weakened immune systems and for whom a salmonella infection might have grave consequences. Even if you don’t buy pasteurized eggs, you can eliminate the risk of Salmonella infection if you cook the egg yolk and white until firm.




Eggs collected from your hen house should be washed within 36 hours of being collected and immediately refrigerated at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below. These two steps can reduce the risk of Salmonella. Refrigeration prevents the bacteria (if present) from multiplying. Eggs purchased from the store should be immediately refrigerated. And if a recipe lists a raw egg as an ingredient (for example, mayonnaise or salad dressing or cake frosting), use pasteurized eggs or egg whites.




An egg from a pasture-raised hen is much more nutritious than an egg from a large commercial enterprise, according to Mother Earth News. The publication did a study in 2007 that measured how eggs from pastured hens stack up against the USDA’s nutrient data for commercial eggs. The results suggested that eggs from the pastured chickens were nutritionally superior. For the full story, see,


• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta caroten


It might be time to acquire a few more chickens if you love eggs as much as I do, especially in those big, mid-day farm table breakfast/lunches, with fresh veggies from the garden, and homemade bread and jam.



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