Egg Buyer's Guide
Understanding egg carton labels and tips for buying fresh eggs.
With so many labels and terms crowding today’s egg cartons, what used to be the simple task of buying eggs has become confusing. Here's how to make sense of the labels and choose the right eggs for you.
"Cage free" and "Free range"
Living conditions of ‘cage free’ and ‘free range’ hens usually are considerably better than those of hens confined to the tiny battery cages (where each bird gets a space smaller than a sheet of notebook paper) traditionally used by egg producers, says Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States. But these terms are not regulated, so they don’t guarantee humane treatment.
The eggs come from producers that follow the USDA’s strict "certified organic" standards. Hens live in pens big enough that the birds are able to engage in natural behaviors and they have access to the outdoors for part of the day. The birds must be fed an organic diet free of antibiotics and pesticides.
This label is regulated by Humane Farm Animal Care, a nonprofit organization that verifies that hens’ living conditions meet welfare standards approved by groups including the Humane Society of the United States. Hens are kept in pens that allow them to engage in natural behaviors.
"High in omega-3s"
People shelling out extra cash for omega-3-enhanced eggs should be aware that most of the omega-3s are ALA (an omega-3 fat found in flax, walnuts and canola), not the EPA and DHA found in fatty fish, the type that most nutrition experts emphasize for heart health.
"United Egg Producers Certified"
United Egg Producers, a trade group that includes over 80% of U.S. egg producers, regulates this label. The mark simply reflects that the producer followed industry practices set to keep hens healthy and productive.
More Shopping Tips for Fresh Eggs
Eggs lose water through their shells during storage. When moisture leaves the egg, the air space within the shell enlarges. To test for freshness, place whole eggs in a bowl of water. A fresher egg will hover closer to the bottom of the bowl. If the egg floats to the top, discard it. It’s past its prime. Or you can just go by the expiration date on the carton.
Eggs range in size from Jumbo to Pee Wee. Size depends on the breed and age of the hen. The color of the eggshell varies with the bird’s feathers and earlobes. White eggs come from white hens with white earlobes, brown eggs come from red hens with red earlobes. The color of the eggshell does not affect nutrition.