Making Ends Meet: Decoding labels, making egg-spensive eggs last longer

Making ends meet isn’t easy these days, but saving money at the grocery store could come down to labels – and knowing some of them mean absolutely nothing “egg”cept to make you pay more. See what I did there?!

Egg prices have jumped 60% since this time last year, but with help from Consumer Reports, we’re decoding labels that may not mean what you think.

When you walk the egg aisle at your local store, you are faced with dozens of options at different prices: Cage-free, free range, organic, and more. But what does it all mean and is it worth paying more for any of them? “A lot of these terms on egg cartons don’t really have any defined meaning, and if you’re going to pay a premium price for eggs you want to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting,” explained Consumer Reports Health Editor Trisha Calvo.

Let’s start off with labels you can ignore, like “farm fresh,” “natural,” and “no hormones.”

“All eggs are from farms, and all eggs are natural, so “farm fresh” and “natural” really has no clear meaning. And by law, chickens can’t be given hormones. So, a carton of eggs that have these claims isn’t really any different from a carton that doesn’t,” Calvo said.

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“Cage-free” is another misleading label. While it’s true the hens aren’t kept in cages, they can still be kept indoors, often in crowded conditions.

“Free range birds aren’t kept in cages, and they do have outdoor access - but they can still be raised in crowded conditions and the outdoor area can be very tiny,” Calvo explained.

If the egg carton has an “organic” seal, it means the eggs were laid by hens fed grains grown without most synthetic pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The birds can’t be raised in cages and must have outdoor access, though that could still mean confined conditions in a building with just a small concrete porch.

“Pasture-raised” on its own isn’t meaningful. But if it’s paired with the Certified Humane label, you can be sure the chickens had access to a pasture with space to do chicken things like pecking for seeds and bugs.

So, if buying eggs from healthier hens who were raised in more humane conditions is important to you, choose ones labeled “pasture raised,” but be prepared to pay more, well over $5 per dozen.

Store eggs so they last as long as possible

Once you’ve bought your eggs, you don’t want any of them to go to waste, so Consumer Reports says as soon as you get home from the store, putt them in the fridge to avoid temperature swings. And don’t put eggs on the door. Instead, place them on a back shelf where they will stay the coldest, so they last as long as possible.

According to the FDA, it’s best for eggs to be eaten within three weeks of purchasing them.

Test eggs for freshness

We were wondering how to tell if an egg is still good, so we did a little research. The Department of Agriculture says a cloudy egg white-- not clear-- is a sign of a fresh egg.

  • There’s also the cold-water test. Gently put an egg in cold water. If it sinks to the bottom and lays on its side, it’s still fresh.
  • Another method is the shake test. If you shake the egg and you hear liquid, experts say it’s a sign the egg has gone bad.
  • And of course, there’s the traditional smell test. When cracked, the egg should have a neutral odor, and if you smell anything else, toss it.