What You Should Look for When Buying Eggs
Posted on: May 1st 2019
What to look for when buying eggs is a much more complex task than you probably thought. There are numerous factors to consider — free-range, pasture-raised, cage-free, organic and more. Who knows what any of this means? Since there are so many types, how do you know which eggs are the best to buy? And what about the chickens? How have they been raised and what did they eat before they laid the eggs you’re considering buying?
So many questions for such little objects, labeled “the perfect food.” Let’s take a look at the answers to some of the most common questions.
Is There Really a Difference in Eggs?
The short answer to this is yes, there is a difference in eggs. There are distinct types, different nutritional content depending on how the chickens were raised, what they ate, various grades and more. Let’s take a look at the differences in eggs further.
1. Egg Grading Basics
Chances are you’ve heard or seen how eggs go by a letter grading system. You not may have stopped to think about what these grades mean, but they play a role in deciding what eggs to purchase.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established specific standards for eggs according to their size and grade. If you see the USDA shield on a carton of eggs, it means these particular eggs have received a grade for consistency with the standards of the USDA by U.S. or state department of agriculture representatives for voluntary grading of egg shells.
The eggs’ volume and weight don’t factor into the grading — it’s the quality that counts. Neither does the color as brown eggs and white eggs have the same grading system.
All eggs once they hit the retailer must meet the Grade B or higher standards.
Here’s the grading system breakdown:
- Grade AA: These have thick, firm whites and a high, round yolk. While you can use Grade AA eggs for many purposes, they’re ideal for frying and poaching. Grade AA eggs are the highest grade an egg can get.
- Grade A: While similar to Grade AA eggs, these eggs may have slightly less firm whites. They’re also suitable for frying and poaching. Grade A eggs are one step down in quality from Grade AA.
- Grade B: These eggs have thinner whites and flatter yolks. They’re good for scrambled eggs and frozen, dry or liquid egg products.
There’s not a huge difference between Grade AA and Grade B eggs. The Grade B egg may have some exterior ridges or marks which brings their grade down. They may be more watery and slightly thinner. However, this shouldn’t discourage you from buying and consuming Grade B eggs since they’re still delicious and perfectly safe to eat.
Again, anything below a Grade B is below USDA standard, and grocery stores shouldn’t sell them. Thus, it’s unlikely you will see eggs below Grade B on your store shelves.
2. Egg Packaging Terminology
Let’s explore eggs a little more and learn about the many labels you could see on their cartons.
Labels may include:
- Regular: These are “standard” eggs and come from large commercial farm-raised chickens.
- Free-range: The term “free-range” generally means the chickens for at least some part of their lives have some outdoor access.
- Cage-free: Cages didn’t confine the chickens.
- Certified-organic: The chickens ate organic feed and weren’t exposed to antibiotics or chemicals to produce certified-organic eggs.
- Farm-fresh: There’s not much meaning to this term and isn’t any official designation. It’s simply used to make customers feel “healthier” when they buy the eggs.
- Kosher: Nearly all eggs are kosher. Eggs won’t be kosher if broken, cracked or have blood spots in them.
- Antibiotic-free: Chicken feed sometimes contains antibiotics, and some chickens receive antibiotics injections. However, antibiotic-free eggs don’t have these features.
- No hormones: The FDA prohibits using hormones in eggs, so all eggs fit this label. Some labels prefer to highlight this fact while others don’t bother mentioning it.
- Organic vegetarian-fed: The chickens had a strict completely vegetarian and all-organic diet.
- Omega-3 enriched: The chickens ate an omega-3-rich diet, typically flaxseed, which is chock-full of beneficial nutrients.
- Humanely raised: The chickens didn’t live in cages. This term doesn’t necessarily mean they had free access to sunlight and grass.
- Natural: The term “natural” only means the eggs have no artificial ingredients or colors and they’ve experienced very little processing.
- Pasture-raised: The chickens could roam their pasture freely, and the eggs came straight from these pasture-raised chickens.
The Qualities of a Good Egg
When trying to figure out how to tell if an egg is fresh, you should consider the quality of the egg. Egg quality refers to a few standards defining both internal quality and external quality.
1. Internal Egg Quality
Internal quality focuses on the thickness of the egg white as well as cleanliness, yolk shape and strength and size of the air cell.
The internal egg quality deals with aesthetic, functional and microbiological properties of the egg white and yolk. A fresh egg is made up of 58 percent egg white, 32 percent yolk and 10 percent shell.
A newly laid egg will have a firm, round egg yolk. As the egg becomes older, the yolk starts absorbing water from the white of the egg and increases in size. When this occurs, it weakens and enlarges the transparent casing of the yolk. The yolk begins to show spots and looks flat. Once laid, an egg’s internal quality starts decreasing, and the longer the egg storage, the more its internal quality deteriorates.
2. External Egg Quality
External quality focuses on shell texture, cleanliness and shape. Poor quality of the eggshell and an egg downgraded level of around 6 to 20 percent has been a huge economic concern for commercial egg producers. In the U.S., the estimated yearly losses are approximately $480 million.
Color, texture, soundness, shape and cleanliness determines the eggs external storage. Each egg’s shell should be clean, smooth and free of cracks. They should also be uniform in size, shape and color.
So, what are the best eggs to buy? This is a personal decision with many factors to take into consideration. If you’re worried about your budget, you might decide to purchase cage-free or regular eggs. If you’re more concerned about your health, pasture-raised or locally produced eggs may be ideal. If animal cruelty is a factor and you wish to support humane farming practices as much as possible, pasture-raised or Humane Certified label eggs might be the way to go for you.
How to Pick a Good Egg
Eggs you find on the shelves of grocery stores have been through a stringent USDA inspection process. Along with going through inspection for quality, they’re transported under strict conditions as well as ensuring their safety.
Still, you should know how to pick a good egg. Here are some tips you can follow:
- Consider refrigeration: Always buy your eggs from a refrigerated case. Eggs generally arrive at retailers in vehicles that maintain an ambient temperature no higher than 45°F (7°C). This helps prevent foodborne illness such as salmonella.
- Check for cracks: Select eggs with uncracked, clean shells. Open the carton of eggs when in the grocery store and inspect them for breakage or cracks. Don’t purchase eggs if you see any cracks since salmonella can get into the interior of the egg if cracked.
- Check the date: Don’t buy out-of-date eggs. As time passes, the yolk will begin its process of absorbing the egg white’s water, making the egg white thinner and the yolk larger, flatter and more easily broken. After you bring eggs home, you can keep the eggs in your fridge for three to five weeks, even if they’re past the “sell by” date.
- Check the label for the USDA mark: Look on the label to see if the USDA mark is on it. A shield bearing the USDA grade of eggs ensures the eggs have been inspected and certified, so they meet strict quality standards.
- Choose the right grade: Most stores stock their shelves with Grade A eggs. Grade A eggs are the same quality as the AA-grade except the white is categorized as “reasonably” firm. Remember, anything lower than a Grade B is not a good choice.
- Choose the right type: Choose the type of eggs based on your preferences. Pasture-raised eggs are healthy, cage-free eggs are affordable, regular eggs are “standard” and so forth.
- Choose the best size for your purpose: Choose the most economical and useful size. The egg size is determined not by their dimensions, but rather their weight. A lot of recipes call for a certain size of an egg, especially in baking. For most applications, large eggs are best.
The Difference Between Farm and Store Eggs
Is there a difference between farm eggs and store eggs? There are many differences between these two types of eggs, and again, their differences have a lot to do with how the raising of the chickens and what they ate. Let’s explore a little further.
1. Store Eggs
Eggs you buy at a grocery store come in packages that will help you figure out their grade and type through their labels. You can assume most of the large grocery store eggs come from large farms with caged hens unless the packaging notes otherwise. These farms are monitored closely by the USDA to ensure food safety.
Farms keep their birds in cages to keep them separate from their feces, aid with efficiency and production cost and create safer working conditions, according to the University of Florida Extension.
Cage-free birds typically roam within a building, not outdoors. It costs more to manage these conditions, which translate into higher priced eggs. Cage-free doesn’t tell customers about other inputs of pharmaceuticals or feed.
Hens pasture-raised live in coops and are rotated around a field. The birds are kept safe from the elements and predation because of the coops. The birds do have access to various field areas while in the coops.
The labels might also make claims about the treatments and feedings of chickens. Chickens could be fed soy- or corn-based commercial feed or feed with organic ingredients and fortified with vitamins and nutrients. Other ingredients may be mixed in that change the eggs’ composition. If manufacturers make claims regarding Omega-3 fatty acids or cholesterol content, this could be because they fed chickens feed designed for producing certain qualities in the eggs.
Antibiotics may also be mixed in chicken water or feed to prevent infection. Sometimes the birds are injected with antibiotics.
2. Farm Eggs
The term “farm eggs” usually refers to eggs from chickens that are naturally-raised or free-range. Naturally-raised chickens have pasture access where they may forage for their own food. Free-range chickens often eat:
- Green plants
Chickens are healthier with natural diets. For many, selecting eggs from natural-raised chickens tends to be an environmental and ethical choice.
How to Spot Fresh Eggs
Over time, as the quality of an egg starts declining, the whites get thinner, and the air pocket inside becomes larger. However, eggs don’t usually “go bad” unless they begin decomposing due to mold or bacteria. In fact, with proper refrigeration, your eggs should stay just fine and edible for many weeks.
But, if you have doubts about an egg, there are some techniques you can try to find out if your eggs are bad or good.
1. Check the Expiration, Sell By or Pack Dates
Checking the expiration date is the simplest way of seeing if the eggs are good enough to eat. But, if you’re past this expiration date by a few days, don’t assume the eggs are bad and throw them away. This would be wasting perfectly good eggs.
Eggs can be labeled either by an expiration date or “sell by” date in the U.S., depending on the state where you live. These dates let you know if the eggs you’re about to buy are still fresh. These two dates are not the same thing. The “sell by” date basically indicates the length of time the store should sell the eggs, not necessarily if the eggs have gone bad. Typically, eggs shouldn’t be for sale more than 30 days from being packaged.
The expiration date is the date the eggs are considered no longer fresh. Obviously, each day past the expiration date is one more day of the eggs losing their freshness. If your eggs are within the “sell by” or expiration date on the carton or they’re within 21 to 30 days after the “pack date,” they’re still considered reasonably fresh.
There is also a “pack date” required by the USDA for graded eggs. This is the day the eggs received their grade and were washed and packaged. It’s a “Julian date,” which means every day of the year has a corresponding chronological number. For example, January 1 would be written as 001 and December 31 would be written as 365.
2. Conduct a Sniff Test
The sniff test is the simplest, oldest and most reliable technique of knowing if an egg went bad. Bad eggs will give a certain unmistakable smell — cooked or raw. You’ve probably heard the old saying “smells like rotten eggs.” A rotten egg gives off a distinct “sulfur” smell. If an egg you plan to cook smells like sulfur, it’s best to discard it.
3. Complete a Visual Inspection
You can also conduct a simple visual test to see if an egg has gone bad or not. First, check to see if the shell of the egg is slimy, cracked or powdery. Cracks and sliminess could indicate bacteria. A powdery appearance could indicate mold.
If the shell is undamaged and dry, crack the egg in a white, clean bowl before using it. Check to see if there is any blue, pink, black or green discoloration in the whites or yolk, which could indicate bacteria growth. If so, don’t use the egg.
4. Perform a Float Test
A very fresh egg sinks because it is denser than water. On the flip side, an old egg floats because it is less dense than water.
To conduct the float test, gently set your egg into a bucket or bowl of water. Again, a fresh egg will sink. It’s old if it tilts upwards or floats.
The reason behind this is the small air pocket inside the egg grows bigger as it ages as water is released and air replaces it. If the air pocket gets big enough, the egg could float. This method lets you know if the egg is old or fresh, but it doesn’t let you know if it’s good or bad. Eggs can still sink if they’re bad and some eggs can float even if they’re fine to eat.
When You Should Use Eggs By
An egg’s freshness is determined by when the egg was laid as well as how it was stored. Adequate handling and storage are among the most critical factors in determining freshness. If a just-laid egg is stored a full day at room temperature, it won’t be as fresh as an older egg refrigerated between 33°F and 40°F from the time it was laid.
However, egg storage determines when you should eat an egg by, not when it was laid. Here are some tips to help you determine how to buy fresh eggs and keep you from having your eggs go bad and wasting them.
- Check the dates: By learning the codes on egg cartons, you can determine how fresh the eggs are. Every carton containing USDA graded eggs has to show the packaging date, the processing plant number and might also include the expiration date. USDA ensures all claims and labeling on a carton of eggs is accurate and truthful. To determine freshness, use the Julian date or pack date as described above.
- Use by the “sell by” date: You want to buy your eggs before the expiration or “sell by” date on the carton. Once you get the eggs home, put them in the refrigerator in their carton and store them in the coldest section of your fridge. Don’t store them in the door. Use the eggs within five weeks of the date you buy them. The “sell by” date will typically expire during this time, but the eggs are still safe to use.
- Refrigerate your eggs immediately: The USDA says most food will be safe with refrigeration of 40°F or lower. This will reduce the risk of salmonella growing and multiplying on the shell and causing foodborne illness.
Find the Freshest Eggs Near You at Sauder’s Eggs
Following these tips above will help you buy the best eggs possible that are safe for you and your family. Locate Sauder’s Eggs near you to ensure you’re buying only the freshest, highest-quality eggs possible. We use the most innovative and latest technology when we process our eggs, ensuring they’re top-quality. We use egg candling systems to verify that our eggs are crack-free and clean. Our automated egg processing equipment preserves their freshness. We then transport our fresh eggs to retailers right after gathering them from the nest, providing you with the freshest eggs available.