How to Tell if an Egg is Fresh? Organic, Cage-Free or Free Range: Which label is best?
Eggs…..current thinking by “eggsperts” is that eggs are now good for you in moderation. But, how do you know you are getting a fresh and nutritious egg??? Here is some information you may find helpful as you plan you egg decorating and hunting fun for Easter.
Is it Fresh??
The following information is provided by the University of Nebraska:
Pack dates and sell-by dates
According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Food Safety & Inspection Service(USDA/FSIS), "By understanding the coding on the egg cartons, chefs and bakers can determine the freshness of the eggs. Each carton of USDA graded eggs must show the date of packaging, the processing plant number, and may include an expiration date. USDA assures that all labeling and claims made on the carton are truthful and accurate.
To determine freshness, a Julian date or pack-date calendar can be used. This three-digit code indicates the date of packaging, starting with January 1 as 001 and ending with December 31 as 365. These numbers represent the consecutive days of the year. You can store fresh shell eggs in their cartons in the refrigerator for four to five weeks beyond this date."
Most of us are not familiar with Julian dates and aren’t going to figure it out easily… but just know the eggs you buy could be a couple weeks old by the time they are gathered, cleaned, processed, packaged, and shipped to your local store. Buying from a local farm or farmers’ market could mean they are fresher and possibly more nutritious.
Processing plants not under USDA inspection are governed by the state laws where the eggs are packed and/or sold. Most states require a pack date as described in this article. For more information about state egg laws, contact your state's Department of Agriculture.
How long to keep eggs
Always purchase eggs before the "Sell-By" or "EXP'" date on the carton. After the eggs reach home, refrigerate the eggs in their original carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door.
For best quality, use eggs within 3 to 5 weeks of the date you purchase them. The 'sell-by' date will usually expire during that length of time, but the eggs are perfectly safe to use.
Use of either a "Sell-By" or "Expiration" (EXP) date is not federally required, but may be State required, as defined by the egg laws in the State where the eggs are marketed. Some State egg laws do not allow the use of a "sell-by" date. (Source: USDA/FSIS)
Is an egg that floats still fresh?
An egg can float in water when its air cell has enlarged sufficiently to keep it buoyant. This means the egg is old, but it may be perfectly safe to use. Crack the egg into a bowl and examine it for an off-odor or unusual appearance
before deciding to use or discard it.
A spoiled egg will have an unpleasant odor when you break open the shell,
either when raw or cooked. (Source: USDA/FSIS)
Always cracking your eggs into a bowl before use
can save you from a nasty surprise and ruined recipe.
Which “label” do I choose?
Now that you are choosing fresh eggs, what type of eggs do you choose?? Deciphering which carton of eggs is best for you and your family can be challenging.
Labels range from “organic” to “cage-free” to “animal welfare approved.”
Let’s look at some of these labels to help you understand what the labels mean
according to the USDA guidelines.
Do keep in mind that all chickens are “organic”, as are you and I ☺.
Chickens labeled organic must be cage-free with the ability to go outdoors
(through the amount of time outdoors is not defined).
Just an open door doesn’t mean the chickens will leave their immediate food source to go outside.
Chickens cannot have had any antibiotics and must be fed organic, vegetarian food.
(Did you know that chickens are omnivores and that like all birds, bugs and worms are part of their natural diet? AND that those critters add to the nutritional value of an egg.)
It is important to know that the USDA organic seal is the only official egg label claim that is backed by federal regulations.
There is no regulation about the amount of time or quality of time spent outdoors or the quality of the outdoor access. Chickens are out of cages and can roam freely around the farmyard at least part of the day. It is legal to call the eggs Free-Range if there is an open door for a mere 5 minutes per day for the chickens to exit if they choose. Usually, however; there are so many chickens in their enclosure that they never make it outside. There is no regulation on what the chickens can be fed.
Chickens are out of cages but not necessarily with access to the outdoors. Chickens do have access to a continuous supply of food and water, but again, there is no regulation on the type of food being fed. Chickens may be tightly packed into a shed with no access to the outdoors.
Chickens may not have access to the outdoors but are out of cages inside a barn or a warehouse. The density of the birds in the barn or warehouse is limited, and there are regulations to make sure chickens can perform natural behaviors.
ANIMAL WELFARE APPROVED
Chickens are free to spend unlimited time outside on pesticide-free pasture where they are also free to eat their natural diet of bugs and worms. Also, they cannot have had their beaks cut. (Beak cutting is allowed in all of the above definitions and is common.) Flocks are up to 500 chickens. Eggs from these farms are found in specialty or health food stores and at farmers’ markets and contain lots of extra nutrients not found in an all- vegetarian diet.
Keep in mind the use of the terms “natural”, “naturally raised”, “no hormones”, and “no antibiotics” are terms that are unregulated and should be examined for substantiation through careful assessment of available information.