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Cracking The Code on Labels: A Guide to choose your eggs

Do you find it difficult to determine which eggs are the healthiest ones for you and your family? 


I know that I do.  Cage-Free or Free-Range eggs?  Organic, antibiotic-free, what do all these things mean?


I got tired of staring at all those eggs in the grocery store, not knowing which ones to pick.  Do I go for the cheapest or cleanest? 


For me, price is the last thing I consider when buying my eggs.  I want to get the healthiest eggs possible.  Then, I look for the best price for that type of egg.


I went on a hunt to find out what all the egg terms mean.  Something I learned while researching egg terms is that some of it may be a little misleading.  The difference between free-range and pasture-raised surprised me.


Read on to clear up the confusion and be in the know when you go grocery shopping for eggs next time.


Conventional:  Hens that produce conventional eggs live in cages.  The cages must provide a minimum of 67 to 86 square inches ( approximately 5 feet to 7 feet) of space.  Each cage houses 3 to 8 birds


The floor of the cages are sloped, so as eggs are laid, they roll down onto a waiting conveyor belt.


The hens have access to water and feed.  They are protected from the elements as well as disease and natural predators.

Cage Free:  This one is straight forward.  The hens are not in cages. 


They are given a minimum of 1 to 1.5 square feet of useable space per bird.  This is enough for them to walk around and spread their wings.  They lay eggs in nests.


These chickens are often cared for in large flocks with no access to the outdoors.  They are provided artificial light to keep them on an egg-laying schedule.


Free Range:  Hens that are considered free range are given a minimum of 2 square feet per bird if they are certified humane.  Otherwise, there is no minimum standard to the space the hens are guaranteed to have. 


They are allowed access to the outdoors if the weather permits it.  When they are given outdoor access, it is for a minimum of 6 hours.


Pasture Raised:  These egg layers are given the most room to live in.  Each bird is guaranteed a minimum of 108 square feet to move around in. 


The hens live outdoors year-round, and the pastures that they have access to are rotated throughout the year. 


Mobile or fixed housing is provided for the hens to be safe indoors overnight as well as during serious seasonal inclement weather. 


They may not be maintained indoors for more than two weeks out of the year.


Certified Organic:  Laying hens that are certified organic are, at minimum, maintained cage-free. 


They are fed an organic diet with no pesticides.  They are not given antibiotics or hormones and have seasonal access to the outdoors.


Organic Vegetarian Fed:  Chickens with this designation have no animal products in their diet.  However, they are not considered verified unless you see one of these certifications on the egg carton: 


USDA Organic, USDA Process Verified, PCO Certified 100% Grass Fed, American Grass Fed, Certified Grass Fed by AGW, NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed, Certified Humane Raised and Handled, Global Animal Partnership Step 1-5+.


Antibiotic Free:  This designation does not mean that the hens have never received antibiotics.   It means that antibiotics were not used as a prevention for disease, only for treatment.


If a hen becomes ill, they are treated, under veterinarian care, with specific FDA-approved antibiotics.  Once they return to good health the antibiotic is discontinued. 


The eggs they lay after treatment are tested until the hen produces antibiotic residue-free eggs before they are allowed to go to market.


Certified Humane:  All hens that are certified humane must be maintained, at minimum, cage free. 


They are housed in a barn that allows free movement.  The floors are littered to encourage natural behavior.  Those behaviors include scratching and taking dust baths.


You will see these designations on egg cartons as single labels as well as in combinations.


I have learned that my favorite eggs are certified organic, and pasture raised.  However, when these are too dear for my budget, I will go for the pasture raised. 


This allows me to know that the hens were given the optimal amount of room and allowed to eat a diet that is natural to them. 


I find that the yokes of these eggs are a deep golden yellow.  They are rich in nutrition and flavor from the diversified diet that the hens get to eat along with healthy living conditions.


No matter what eggs you decide you like best, you’ll be able to choose with the understanding of eggs-actly what you are getting.





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