And an apology for not posting the last few days - I had company, company who loves to cook, and that's what we've been doing! Right now, there's a yummy bread pudding in the oven for breakfast. Since we have to roll out of here in about a half-hour to go to the Richmond airport, no bourbon sauce, but some pure maple syrup.
By Monica Eng
Few food purchases can scramble the brain like buying eggs these days. With choices that include organic, free range, Food Alliance certified, brown, white, natural, fertile, American Humane Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, vegetarian fed, omega-3, pasteurized and cage free, a consumer could be forgiven for cracking in confusion.
These labels have implications for the way the hen was treated, fed, housed and even colored as well as how her eggs were processed after they popped out. But sometimes the labels don't mean much at all.
To help hunt down the best eggs, we've compiled a guide to the wild world of egg labels.
Natural: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service defines "natural" as not containing "any artificial or synthetic ingredients, and it must be minimally processed." By this definition, almost all eggs would be considered natural.
Free range: Indicates that hens have access to the outdoors, but there are no regulations on the duration or quality of their access.
Pasteurized: Eggs that have been treated with heat to eliminate salmonella bacteria and make them safe to eat raw or undercooked.
Pasture raised: This unregulated term implies that hens are raised outdoors and moved regularly in mobile hen houses to different grassy lots on the farm. This gives them access to a variety of foods found on the ground — bugs, grubs and other small creatures — as well as chicken feed.
Fertile: Hens are raised in barns that also house roosters. The term is unregulated but implies that the hens are uncaged.
Food Alliance certified: According to the Food Alliance, its certification requires "healthy and humane treatment of animals, safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation, pest and nutrient management, protection of wildlife habitat and other agricultural concerns."
Animal Welfare Approved: Hens must be kept cage free and allowed to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. Outdoor access is required at all times, and forced molting and beak cutting are prohibited. Certifies mostly family farms.
American Humane Certified: Hens must be kept uncaged, but access to the outdoors is not required. Space requirements allow for natural behaviors. Forced molting is prohibited, but beak trimming is permitted in some cases. AHC has certified about 85 percent of cage-free eggs in the United States.
United Egg Producers Certified: This certification allows hens to be caged, does not require access to the outdoors and does not prohibit beak cutting or forced molting. It does require that hens have "access to clean water and are fed several times a day." The UEP literature suggests caged hens are safer and healthier than uncaged birds.
Certified Humane Raised and Handled: Hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and may have access to the outdoors. Includes space requirements for hens to perform natural behaviors. Forced molting is prohibited, but beak cutting is permitted.
USDA organic: Hens are kept uncaged in barns or warehouses, are allowed access to the outdoors and are fed an organic, vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. Forced molting and beak cutting are permitted.
SOURCES: USDA, Humane Society of the United States, Food Alliance, United Egg Producers, American Humane Certified