Unscramble Egg Carton Labels: What All Those Terms Really Mean


Egg carton labels can be confusing – from free-range to organic to hormone-free – what do those terms even mean? Be a confident and informed shopper by knowing how to read egg labels.

USDA Certified Organic

Organic eggs are produced by hens housed and fed according to the established United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. Hens’ diet consists of ingredients grown to meet standards required for the organic program, such as they are fed 100 percent organic feed and must have access to the outdoors year-round. For more information on organic guidelines for egg production, visit USDA’s National Organic Program.


Cage-free eggs come from hens that are raised at indoor floor operations. Here, hens can roam vertically and horizontally and have unlimited access to fresh food and water. This allows them to exhibit natural behaviors and ensures optimal hen care. Look for United Egg Producers’ certified logo to be sure you’re buying eggs backed by science-based methods and verified by third-party audits.


There are no set standards for eggs labeled free-range; however, these hens are normally provided access to the outdoors and are not housed in enclosures. They may consume a diet of grains, as well as forage for plants and insects. Free-range eggs are usually more expensive because of high production costs and lower volume production of eggs.


Pasture-raised eggs also do not have established standards for labeling. Hens have access to the outdoors and can roam and forage on a maintained pasture area, where they mostly eat grass and bugs. Like for free-range eggs, prices for pasture-raised eggs tend to be higher, due to high production costs and lower egg production volume.


It is required by U.S. federal law, regardless of the egg carton label, that all hens are raised without supplemental hormones, so the statement “no hormones” is considered a marketing term, and it may or may not be included on egg packages. You can be assured eggs are hormone-free!


Conventional eggs are laid by hens in climate-controlled barns, where they have nesting spaces and are safe from harmful weather and diseases. They have unlimited access to fresh water and food and are better protected from weather, disease and predators. Enriched colony housing allows for perch space, dust bathing or scratch areas and nest space.

Now that you have a better understanding of what egg labels mean, you can be confident in your egg-buying decisions. Whichever eggs you prefer, all eggs provide the same 13 essential vitamins and minerals, including six grams of high-quality protein, with no carbs and zero added sugar.

For more information on egg label definitions, click here.

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