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Fewer than 10 years ago, when consumers took a trip to the local grocery store, the eggs on display varied in choices of white or brown and in sizes of small, medium, and large. Today, consumers are faced with a much more complicated choice.
Do you opt for the least expensive eggs? Do you prefer a certain brand? How can you be sure you’re getting quality, Canadian eggs? What’s the difference between free-run, and free-range? Is organic better for you?
The good news is that all BC-produced eggs meet the highest standards for cleanliness, quality, and freshness. Let us help demystify eggs and egg labeling, so that you can buy as your budget and your conscience dictate.
In Canada, there are five types of eggs that correspond to the five housing types for hens: conventional caged, enriched, free run, free range, and organic. There’s no nutritional difference between these eggs, the distinctions are solely in how the hens are housed.
Conventional caged eggs are the most inexpensive eggs on your grocery store shelves. This type of housing is being phased out and is being replaced with enriched housing. Hens raised in conventional cages are still inspected and raised according to strict standards to ensure the cages are kept clean and that the hens have unlimited access to clean water and food. This system also allows for the hens’ health to be easily monitored and is a very efficient use of space.
Enriched housing is the new standard for your least expensive grocery store eggs. It offers significantly more space per bird and is equipped with amenities like nest boxes, perches and scratch pads so that the hens can express their natural behaviours. It has been developed in consultation with veterinarians and animal welfare specialists to ensure the health and wellness of the birds.
Cage-Free is a term that can be applied to the remaining three production types: free run, free range and organic.
Free-run eggs are produced in an environment where the hens have the run of the barn. Hens can perch, scratch and roam freely throughout the barn. They’re also provided with nest areas where they lay their eggs. In addition, some barns are equipped with a multi-tiered aviary system with perches, food and water at different heights throughout the barn. The number of hens in these barns is regulated to ensure they are not over crowded.
Free-range eggs come from barns that are similar to free run barns but also give hens access to the outdoors. There are standards in place to ensure the hens have access to the outdoors at least 120 days a year (minimum of six hours per day).
Organic eggs are produced in barns that are similar to free-range barns. Hens are allocated still more space as compared to free-range barns, are fed only certified organic feed, and are never given antibiotics. Organic producers are also given an extra layer of oversight, as their organic certification is administered by a third-party auditor.
For more information on the regulations governing the care of cage-free hens, you can visit the Specialty Production page of our website.
There are a few types of eggs that have additional nutritional properties derived from a specialized diet given to the hens.
Omega-3 or Omega Pro eggs have more Omega-3 than regular eggs. The feed contains ground flax seed, fish oil or other DHA sources, which results in the eggs having a higher Omega-3 and DHA content.
Vitamin-Enriched eggs have more Vitamin E, Vitamin B12, and folacin than regular eggs. The hens are fed a traditional feed that contains higher levels of certain nutrients.
Your egg carton can tell you a lot about the eggs inside.
Egg size is determined by weight and each size indicates a weight range. Small eggs are eggs between 42 and 48 grams, medium eggs weigh 49 to 55 grams, large eggs are 56 to 62 grams, and extra large eggs are 63 to 69 grams. Jumbo eggs include all eggs 70 grams or more in weight while peewee eggs are those eggs weighing less than 42 grams.
The best before date is printed on the carton when the eggs are graded and packed, usually just a few days after they’ve been collected from the farm. It indicates how long the eggs can be kept, provided they’re properly refrigerated, and maintain their “Grade A” quality.
The Canada Grade A symbol should be found on every carton of retail eggs. It indicates that the eggs have been graded at a Canadian Food Inspection Agency certified Canadian grading facility and meet the standards for Grade A quality. You can check out the CFIA website for the full criteria for “Grade A” eggs, but it includes checking the quality of the shell, the consistency of the egg white, the size of the air cell in the egg, the overall cleanliness of the eggs, and the shape and placement of the yolk.
Buying Canadian is something that most of us strive to do — especially when it comes to our groceries. Most of the eggs you see on your grocery store shelf are indeed Canadian; however, just because it says “Canada Grade A” doesn’t necessarily mean the eggs were laid in Canada, on Canadian egg farms. The “Canada Grade A” designation is granted if the eggs are graded in a licensed, Canadian grading facility and meet the “Grade A” standards, but they don’t have to be Canadian eggs. However, they DO have to be clearly labeled as “Product of” their country of origin.
For example, eggs imported from the US, but graded in Canada can be labeled as “Canada Grade A”, but must ALSO be clearly labeled “Product of the USA.” For more information, you can visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website.
EQA™, the Egg Quality Assurance™ program, is an industry-wide initiative that certifies Canadian eggs are produced according to strict food safety and animal welfare standards. This is a brand new program, and you’ll start to see this logo on egg cartons and in advertising across the country. The EQA™ mark indicates that your eggs have met the highest standards of the Egg Farmers of Canada’s Start Clean-Stay Clean® and Animal Care Programs, and it is only available to be displayed on Canadian eggs. For more information on the EQA™ program, you can visit the Egg Quality Assurance website.
When eggs don’t meet the standard required for “Grade A,” or are of a size or type not currently in demand at grocery stores, they are often sent to a processing plant to be turned into a variety of other egg products. Liquid eggs, pasteurized eggs, packaged egg whites, ready to eat hard cooked eggs, powdered eggs and pre-cracked eggs for restaurants and bakeries are all examples of these processed egg products.