Egg Carton Labeling Terms
Antibiotic Free - This term can be misleading as all eggs produced in the U.S., even if not specified on the egg carton, are antibiotic free. However, if hens become ill and antibiotics are needed, they’re used on a therapeutic level under the supervision of a veterinarian. If hens are given an antibiotic at this level, their egg production is likely to severely decrease. Any eggs produced would be diverted from human consumption according to FDA regulations.
Brown Eggs - Brown eggs are laid by red-brown feathered breeds like the Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, and Plymouth Rock. Slightly larger than white-feathered hens, these breeds often require more feed. According to the USDA, the nutritional content is the same as white eggs unless the feed is nutrient-enhanced. Nutrient content has nothing to do with shell color.
Cage-Free/Free-Roaming Eggs - Eggs laid by hens at indoor floor operations, sometimes called free-roaming. The hens may roam in a building, room or open area, usually in a barn or poultry house, and have unlimited access to fresh food and water, while some may also forage for food if they are allowed outdoors. Cage-free systems vary and include barn-raised and free-range hens, both of which have shelter that helps protect against predators. Both types are produced under common handling and care practices, which provide floor space, nest space and perches. Depending on the far, these housing systems may or may not have an automated egg collection system.
Enriched Colony - A production system that contains adequate environmental enrichments to provide perch space, dust bathing or a scratch area (s), and nest space to allow the layers to exhibit inherent behavior. Enriched colony systems are American Humane Certified.
Fertile Eggs - Eggs which, if not refrigerated, can be incubated and hatch into chicks. These eggs result when hens and roosters are housed together. While these eggs may contain a small amount of male hormone, they do not possess any known nutritional differences from non-fertile eggs. Almost all eggs sold in the marketplace are non-fertile.
Free-Range Eggs - Eggs produced by hens that have access to outdoors in accordance with weather, environmental or state laws. The birds have continuous access to fresh food and water and may forage for wild plants and insects. They are also provided floor space, nesting space and perches.
Good Source of Protein - All eggs qualify for this nutrient content claim because they meet or exceed 10% of the DV.
Gluten Free - All eggs are naturally gluten free. If the chicken is fed a grain that contains gluten i.e. corn, wheat or barley, the gluten is broken down during the digestive process (within the chicken) and is not passed into the body tissues or any products produced by the chicken.
Hormones - The egg industry does not use hormones in the production of shell eggs. A “no hormone” statement may appear on a label for shell eggs, but FDA requires that it be accompanied with the qualifying statement, “Hormones are not used in the production of shell eggs” to prevent misleading consumers that some eggs have added hormones.
Natural - USDA identifies all shell eggs are natural.
Nutrient-Enhanced Eggs - Eggs which are produced by hens fed a special diet that may include things like flax seed, marine algae or fish oils. An example of some of these is Vitamin D, Omega 3, Vitamin E, etc.
Organic Eggs - Eggs are laid by cage-free, free-roaming hens that are raised on certified organic feed and have access to the outdoors. The hens’ feed is grown without most synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers, and 100% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic. Antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited (although these will not be found in any shell eggs). Producers with more than $5,000 in annual sales of organic eggs must be certified by a USDA accredited certifier. The egg carton must bear the name of the certifier.
Pasteurized Eggs - Eggs heated to temperatures just below the coagulation point to destroy pathogens. These eggs are recommended for recipes that call for raw eggs or for people susceptible to illness who prefer runny eggs. Pasteurized shell eggs must be kept refrigerated.
Pastured Eggs - Pastured eggs originate from hens free to roam and forage on a maintained pasture area. The vegetarian diet may be supplemented with grain. The hens are moved to various pasture areas to maintain vegetation. If an egg packer elects to use the terminology to describe shell eggs, the term should include an explanation located on the label.
Vegetarian Eggs - Produced by hens fed a vegetarian diet. No animal byproducts in feed.
Zero Trans Fats - Indicates that an egg contains 0.5 grams or less of carbohydrate per egg, which is true of all eggs.
Humane - Multiple labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely. Examples would be American Humane Certified, Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, UEP Certified.
Organic Fed - Primarily used by producers with less than $5,000 in annual sales of organic eggs. Producers must use certified organic feed in order to claim this.