Solving the puzzle of egg labels

Consumers have several choices of eggs in today’s egg case – including eggs of different sizes and from a variety of farm environments. While choice is a good thing, some find that there’s so much information on egg cartons, it can be confusing.

First, the Julian date (the date the eggs were packed) is usually found on the short side of the carton. Though not required, cartons may also carry an expiration date beyond which time the eggs should not be sold but are still safe to eat.


All eggs are inspected for wholesomeness and safety, though grading of eggs for quality is voluntary. Companies that choose to have their eggs graded pay for this service from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA grade shield appears on those eggs, and the eggs are graded AA, A or B based on interior and shell quality. Eggs are sized by weight per dozen eggs and labeled as small, medium, large, x-large and jumbo.

There are a lot of labels that don’t appear on all cartons of eggs, because they describe how the eggs were produced. You’ve probably seen terms like UEP Certified, cage-free or certified organic on cartons of eggs. But do you know what these labels mean? The chart below defines some common terms that appear on egg labels.

Label Term  Definition
UEP Certified Regular and Cage-Free

UEP Certified



The UEP Certified logo signifies those eggs originate from farms dedicated to responsible, science-based methods to ensure optimal hen care. An annual compliance audit is conducted by independent third-party inspectors.
USDA Certified Organic

USDA Organic



USDA Certified Organic eggs are produced according to USDA organic standards. Private and state agencies inspect and certify organic egg producers.
American Humane Certified

American Humane Certified


Eggs are produced on farms that follow science-based animal well-being standards for cage, cage-free and enriched colony housing systems. The American Humane Certified program is a voluntary third-party animal welfare audit program.


Free Range

Free Range




Free-range eggs are produced on farms where hens have some access to the outdoors. There are not specific guidelines for free-range egg production, and farms are not required to use third-party audits.



Pastured hens have access to the outdoors and graze primarily by eating grass and bugs. There are not specific guidelines for pasture-raised egg production, and farms are not required to use third-party audits.


Pasteurized Eggs are heated in their shells to temperatures just below the coagulation point to destroy pathogens, which may be beneficial for immune-compromised individuals.


Vegetarian Fed Hens are fed a vegetarian diet and are not given supplements or additives in their feed.


Enriched with Omega-3 Due to enhanced hen diets Omega-3 enhanced eggs contain 100 mg to more than 600 mg per egg, compared to 30 mg typical in regular eggs.



Hormone Free



U.S. federal law requires that laying hens are never fed hormones. Whether or not the carton says so, all eggs are free from added hormones.
Fertile Fertilized eggs can be found at specialty foods stores. Commercially raised eggs are laid by hens who have not mated with a rooster so are not fertilized.

Consumers have a lot of choices when selecting their eggs. It’s important to remember that, regardless of the label there food safety programs and regulations to ensure eggs are safe. To make sure they stay that way, follow these storage and preparation tips. To keep up to date on more egg safety tips follow us on Twitter and Facebook.