What Do Those Egg Carton Labels Really Tell You? (Infographic)


It’s no secret I cherish eggs. They are the only reason I eat breakfast (almost) every day. And while eggs have gotten a bad rap, they deliver a healthy dose of protein to keep you full and build muscle mass and 13 vital nutrients — the majority of which are in the yolk.

I try to buy cage-free, locally-raised eggs when I can. When I can’t, I find myself staring at my grocery store’s egg shelves, trying to decipher those cryptic egg carton labels.

Thank heavens for infographics. This one dropped into my inbox the other day.

The Ultimate Egg Guide

Allow me to share a few additional egg facts.

On the subject of an eggshell’s coloring, white hens don’t always lay white eggs, and brown hens don’t always lay brown. And when you buy farm-fresh eggs, you’ll find an incredible rainbow of colors from varying shades of tan to blue, green, and even pink. Beautiful.

Some labels on an egg carton mean next to nothing:

  • The term cage-free doesn’t mean the hens are roaming the great outdoors freely — they are most likely held in a barn or warehouse where conditions are unknown and often incredibly inhumane. No regulations exist for the use of this term.
  • Free-range on the label indicates the hens have some access to the outdoors, but this term is also unregulated which means you have no idea how much access they really have or how they are treated when indoors.
  • The word natural on the label is unregulated and means nothing. Again, it’s an unregulated claim.
  • An American Humane Certified label sounds like a positive, right? Wrong. This certification allows for cage confinement — where hens might live in a space the size of a piece of legal paper. Eggs in these cartons may come from cage-free hens, but you have no way of knowing. Stupid, huh?

Other labels speak volumes about how a farmer treats his mama hens:

  • Certified Organic eggs come from cage-free hens that have some access to the outdoors. These hens eat an organic, vegetarian diet without animal by-products, pesticides, or genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
  • Certified Humane means the hens were raised cage-free but typically indoors. With this certification, however, they have space to engage in natural hen-like activities — like nesting and dust-bathing — and they are not given antibiotics or hormones.
  • Food Alliance certification on the label indicates the hens are cage-free with some access to outdoors. When inside, they can engage in natural behaviors, and the amount of space they have is regulated.
  • The Animal Welfare Approved label speaks volumes. As one of the highest animal welfare standards, it’s limited to family farms where hens have free access to pasture and shelter, eat vegetarian feed, and are antibiotic-free. These hens are livin’ the life.

I didn’t even touch on the thorny topic of beak cutting, which is regulated by some of the above certifications, but not all. I figure this is enough information overload for one post.

Are you egg-cited to be better prepared the next time you find yourself staring blankly at your supermarket’s egg section? What kind of eggs do you buy and why?

Infographic Credit: Netta via visual.ly; Image Credit: Carly & Art via flickr/CC

Keep up with the latest sustainable food news by signing up for our free newsletter. CLICK HERE to sign up!

About the Author

Hi all! I'm Mary Gerush - a recovering corporate worker bee turned good-farm-real-food advocate and writer who wants to help people understand what they're eating. I tend a tiny urban farm in Dallas, TX, and hope to scale up one day soon. Omnivore through-and-through, there's not much I love to eat more than a butter-basted grass fed steak fresh from a searing hot cast iron skillet. Follow me on , , and !