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Co-op News | Spring Quarterly 2019

An Egg-splanation of Labels

What your egg carton is telling you

Caitlin Fowler, Graphics & Marketing Assistant

The Co-op strives to provide its members and shoppers with environmentally and socially responsible product choices. Eggs are no exception! Egg cartons are labeled with a variety of terms that describe the condition and quality of the eggs, and the chickens from which they were produced. With all these different labels, it can be difficult to know which eggs to choose. To help our customers, we have put together a quick guide to help unscramble the mystery around common egg carton labels. 

Egg color is determined by the breed of the hen. Generally, white hens lay white eggs and brown hens lay brown eggs although feather color doesn’t directly impact egg color. There is no significant nutritional difference, though brown eggs tend to be larger.

All Natural
Eggs labeled “All Natural” don’t contain artificial ingredients or added color and are minimally processed. This label doesn’t indicate how the chicken was raised.

These eggs come from hens that don’t live in cages but stay indoors with unlimited access to food and water. In California, all chickens must be able to fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. 

These eggs are from cage-free hens that have access to the outdoors. There are no regulations on how long they stay outside or what qualifies as outdoors. However, for eggs that are also labeled “Certified Humane” egg-laying chickens must have access to at least two square feet of outdoor space for up to six hours a day.

Certified organic eggs follow USDA guidelines and regulations regarding feeding and housing of hens. These eggs must come from Free-Range hens that have access to the outdoors and are fed organic feed.

Vegetarian Diet
Eggs are from hens fed a vegetarian-only diet. Chickens are natural omnivores and foragers, so this label won’t be seen on eggs from hens that are pasture-raised and free-range because they have access to the outdoors.


This label is typically used to describe eggs that are produced from hens that are provided shelter and who have regular and extended access to the outdoors, more space than free-range chickens and a more natural life and diet. There is no federal regulation for this label, so exact environments can vary from farm to farm. 

Hens are raised on an Omega-rich diet. These eggs typically test with a higher amount of Omega-3 with levels that can be from 100mg-300mg compared to the typical level of 30mg. 

No Hormones
Hormones are prohibited to be given to poultry raised for commercial egg production in the United States, so no eggs labeled for sale will contain hormones.  This is a voluntary and optional label used by some egg producers. 

No Antibiotics
These chickens are not given any type of antibiotics during their lifetime. Certified organic eggs must be antibiotic free.

Grade AA, A or B
Grades are given to eggs based on quality factors like defects, freshness and appearance. Grade AA is the highest grade and is given to eggs that have thick, firm whites and high round yolks. Grade A eggs are similar to Grade AA eggs but their whites may be less firm. Grade B eggs have thinner whites and wider yolks.

These eggs were laid by hens who may have mated with a rooster. These eggs, if incubated, may have led to chicks, but refrigeration stops the growth process. There is no known additional nutritional benefit to fertile eggs.

California Shell Egg Food Safety Compliant (CA SEFS COMPLIANT)
This is a state regulation that is part of The Egg Safety and Quality Management (ESQM) Program. This label ensures eggs sold in California come from hens that have enough room to lie, stand, turn around and spread their wings without touching another bird. Eggs must also have a quality grade of AA, A or B and maintain a temperature of 45 degrees or less.

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