In order to qualify for USDA organic certification, the grains used for the hens’ diets must be produced on land that has been free from the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years.
Genetically engineered crops are not permitted, and hens must be maintained without hormones, antibiotics, and other intrusive drugs.
Vegetarian eggs are laid from hens that are only fed a vegetarian diet -- free from meat or fish by-products. Hens are kept in cages or indoors and do not peck any grubs or worms.
Pasteurized eggs are eggs in their shell that have been put through a pasteurization process where they are heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for three and a half minutes. Eggs are not required to be pasteurized.
Pasteurization completely kills bacteria without cooking the egg. The process can also be done for packaged egg whites used in cooking.
Eating pasteurized eggs is recommended for young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems so they can reduce the risk of contracting a salmonella infection.
Which Egg Is Safest?
“Those terms (organic, free-range, and cage free) have nothing to do with contamination. That does not assure eggs will be salmonella-free,” says Mike Doyle, PhD, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. However, it may ensure the hen has a better life.
To protect yourself further:
- Check eggs before buying to make sure there are no cracked or leaking eggs, which could transfer any bacteria that are present.
- Immediately refrigerate eggs to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below so if bacteria are present, they won’t multiply.
- Cook eggs thoroughly so the white and yolk are firm, which kills salmonella.
- Wash hands, utensils, and preparation surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water when handling and preparing eggs.
- If you’re collecting eggs from your own backyard flock, wash eggs in hot soapy water before refrigerating.
- Use pasteurized eggs for recipes that call for raw egg in foods like salad dressing, hollandaise sauce, or spaghetti carbonara.
- Young children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system should also eat pasteurized eggs.
- When buying fresh eggs from a local farmer’s market, ask whether they’ve been washed and refrigerated within 36 hours of being collected, which cuts the risk salmonella.