Selling Eggs? Here's What You Need to Know

Amy Barkley, Livestock Specialist
Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program

July 30, 2020
Selling Eggs? Here's What You Need to Know

Selling Eggs? Here's What you Need to Know

By Amy Barkley, Livestock Specialist

The daylight patterns are on the uphill swing, meaning that our poultry are once again dutifully beginning to produce an abundance of nutritious eggs. As eggs are prepared for sale, there are some safety considerations and state regulations that need to be kept in mind.

All of the information expressed below is pertinent to flock owners of fewer than 3,000 hens. Flock owners with more than 3,000 hens will need to follow additional federal guidelines in regards to food safety and labeling requirements.

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Food Safety in the Coop

Keeping a clean and sanitary coop can go a long way to maintaining egg wholesomeness. The bacterial contamination of an egg is directly related to the dirt on the shell surface. Dirt is classified as feces, bedding, blood, dirt, broken egg contents, or fly spots. Essentially, dirt is anything on the surface of an egg which should not be there. Training hens to nest boxes and ensuring that those nest boxes stay clean is one way to improve egg sanitation.

Mislaid eggs are those that are laid anywhere outside of the nest box. Most commonly, these eggs are found on the coop floor or in nests hidden in secluded areas in the barn or around the farm. Eggs that are laid on the barn floor are usually more contaminated than those laid in the nest, simply because of innately dirty nature of the hen house floor. It's been recommended by many food safety scientists not to consume those eggs that were laid on the floor unless you cook them until the yolks and whites are firm. Eggs laid in secluded nests post more of a quality and safety risk, since they can be many days old, can come from hens with unknown medical history, may or may not be heavily contaminated with bacteria or molds, and may or may not be fertile. With these unknowns, it is advised to discard all eggs that are found in nests created outside of nest boxes.

Keep in mind that any eggs which are cracked/leaking, rotten, or developing embryos may not be sold for human consumption.


Egg Collection

Eggs should be collected every 48 hours, at minimum, and ideally every day. Following collection, the eggs should be immediately refrigerated at temperatures at or below 45°F to reduce bacterial growth, maintain egg quality, and to halt embryonic development if the egg is fertile. Eggs can be kept in the fridge unwashed for up to 3 weeks before washing.

 

To Wash or Not to Wash?

There is no legal direction in NYS in regards to if eggs should or shouldn't be washed if a farm has fewer than 3,000 hens. This decision is up to the discretion of the flock owner, bearing in mind that eggs for sale must be free of any adhering dirt or prominent stains under the law. There are pros and cons to washing: washing removes the natural protective protein coating of the egg, often called the "cuticle" or "bloom", but also removes adhering dirt and some stains. A recent study by the USDA-ARS (United States Department of Agriculture - Agriculture Research Service) indicated that washed, refrigerated eggs maintained similar quality to unwashed refrigerated eggs, which is contrary to previous beliefs that unwashed eggs maintain their freshness longer.

Washing eggs properly is essential for food safety, and incorrect washing of eggs can actually lead to increased interior contamination of the egg. Eggs should be washed in water that is at least 20 degrees higher than the ambient temperature of the egg, since washing in water colder than the egg allows bacteria on the shell surface to be pulled into the egg through contraction of the white and yolk caused by the temperature difference. Warmer water in excess of 50 degrees to the temperature of the egg can result in thermal cracks, which are typically not seen with the naked eye, but can be easily seen if the egg is candled.

A good washing technique is as follows: 1.) Apply a light stream of water to the egg and gently remove debris with a cloth, dish scrubber, or brush that has been dipped in an egg wash solution or mild dish soap. 2.) Rinse the egg of the cleaning solution. 3.) Allow the egg to air dry. Never soak eggs at any time, as this allows for bacteria to penetrate the shell through the egg's natural pores.

There are also small-scale commercial egg washers available on the market. Follow the manufacturer's directions for use, and use only approved food-grade sanitizers.

Some farmers opt to wash dirty eggs and simply pack the clean ones. This is an acceptable practice. That said, any eggs which are excessively dirty, regardless of where they were collected, are considered heavily contaminated with bacteria and should not be washed and sold.


Packing Eggs

Dry eggs are to be packed into clean egg cartons. Packing eggs large end up keeps the air cell exposed, maintaining better freshness of the eggs over time. It is highly recommended that eggs be packed into new cartons for food safety reasons, but old cartons can be reused if they're clean. It is not recommended that eggs be packed into cartons from purchased eggs unless absolutely necessary. If they must be packed in these cartons, all identifying features on that carton (farm name, store name, and/or branding information; packing code/date information; grade; size; and nutrition/welfare claims) must be obliterated with black permanent marker or opaque paint. It is illegal to sell eggs in cartons with identifying features or claims that are not the farm's own, and this includes all of the items listed above.

 

What Not to Put on the Carton:

Claims of nutrition or certifications outside those of a standard egg cannot be made on the carton. Wording such as "healthier" or "fresher" aren't allowed. Furthermore, neither are claims of increased nutritional profiles, even if the eggs are from pastured hens. It's commonly regarded that pasture-raised hens' eggs may have higher levels of omega-3s, carotenoids, and fat-soluble vitamins, but the only way these claims would be allowed on the carton is if the eggs were tested regularly at a certified laboratory to determine nutrient composition. This is often cost-prohibitive for small producers. 

Do not use any certified seals on the carton unless you have a current certification. This applies most often to organic or welfare claims. However, you can use descriptors of your management practice on the cartons, such as "eggs from hens raised on pasture" or "eggs from hens fed a non-GMO diet".


Refrigeration Requirements

Egg producers in NYS, regardless of size, must refrigerate their eggs within 48 hours of lay and maintain that refrigeration through the time that the eggs are sold, with the exception of when the eggs are removed from refrigeration for washing. This includes keeping eggs cold through the transportation chain when travelling to and selling at farmer's markets as well as selling eggs from coolers on the roadside. Cold packs are necessary to use in units without electrical refrigeration and need to be refreshed to keep the temperature at or below 45°F.


Carton Labeling

To sell eggs in NY State, all cartons must have the following legal labeling requirements:

 The word "Eggs" in 3/8"  or larger type.

 If selling eggs from other poultry, identify the species before "eggs" in 3/8" or larger type.

 Grade should not be placed on the carton, since this is a USDA-monitored service. You can use the word "ungraded" in 3/8" or larger type.

 If sizing eggs, use an Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) certifiable scale to check weights.

 Count (6 eggs, 12 eggs (dozen), or 18 eggs).

 The words "Produced and Packed by" followed by the farm name (or farmer name) and full address.

 One of the following statements: "KEEP REFRIGERATED", "Keep refrigerated at or below 45°F", or "Store at or below 45°F".

 The safe handling instructions statement, outlined by a black square. The statement reads: "SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly"

 

While not required, inventory management can be maintained by adding  the following to the label:

 The date the eggs were washed and packed

 "Use by" date - max of 66 days from the date of lay or 45 days from the date of washing.

 

If you have any questions on producing, processing, or packing eggs for sale, please reach out to Amy Barkley, Livestock Specialist, at amb544@cornell.edu or (716) 640-0844.




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