Egg Buying 101

Breaking down egg carton buzzwords so you can make the most informed decision

There are an incredibly large amount of options when it comes to buying eggs at your local store. Every single package seems to contain a plethora of buzzwords, all meaning different things. To improve your egg buying strategy and experience, we’ve broken down just what regulations cover these buzzwords and how they can be used.

Breaking Down Buzzwords

Cage-Free: There are no specific regulations overseeing cage-free situations. The only state with specific regulations is California which now requires enough space for each hen to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The term cage-free is open to interpretation (including the California law) and varies from farm to farm.

Organic: One of the few regulated terms to appear on this list. Farms must comply with USDA regulations and inspections. Eggs marked with the USDA’s Organic seal must come from uncaged hens that are free to roam in their houses and have access to the outdoors. They must also be fed an organic and regulated feed.

Free-Range: There is no regulation of the term free-range by any organization or federal agency. In general, the industry standard for the term free-range, means cage-free along with “access to the outdoors.” This access varies from farm to farm, meaning that it could be anything from a concrete slab with a fence to a large, lush fenced-in area.

All Natural: Natural is a term not regulated by any sort of organization or federal agency. Every farm has its own definition of natural and thus this label varies from producer to producer.

No Added Hormones: This label should not influence your buying decision. The FDA prohibits the use of artificial and added hormones for all poultry, thus every egg for sale comes from a hormone free chicken.

No Antibiotics: Antibiotics are rarely administered in hens used in egg production. That being said, there are three regulated FDA approved antibiotics. Antibiotic residue will not occur in eggs according to the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. Eggs from chickens using FDA approved antibiotics are not allowed to be labeled as antibiotic-free.

Ultimately, every brand is different and researching your options before shopping will arm you with the information necessary to make your decision. There are an incredible amount of articles out there comparing brands and showcasing different qualities from producers. Find what works for you and where you’re willing to compromise on when it comes to egg sourcing. Lastly, try finding a local farm and see if you can buy eggs from them. Occasionally, national producers will sell eggs that are still fantastic but not quite store worthy in their regional headquarters. Seeking out one of these companies is an excellent option as well.


Anna Horn is a Content Developer for Nature’s Yoke, a family owned and operated egg producer, committed to bring small family farms together in the Central PA area.


NOTE: The statements presented in this column should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Dietary supplements do not treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before altering your daily dietary regimen. The opinions presented here are those of the writer. WholeFoods Magazine does not endorse any specific company, brand or product.