benefits of farm fresh eggs vs store bought

The Ultimate Hack to Farm Fresh vs Store Bought Eggs

Let’s face it. There are so many different labels used on egg cartons and it can be pretty confusing to know exactly what you’re buying. Here’s the ultimate hack to reading those egg cartons labels so you can grocery shop worry free!

benefits of farm fresh eggs vs store bought

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never given much thought to the labels on your egg cartons. But did you know that there’s actually a lot of information packed into those tiny words? Read on and learn how to read an egg carton label like a pro! 

Eggs are one of the staples in many of our diets. We use eggs for all sorts of recipes, or eat them by themselves. They’re nutritious! One egg offers 7 grams of protein, 5 grams of healthy fats, and loaded with all sorts of vitamins and minerals. They even help raise your HDL, or good cholesterol.

So what do “cage-free”, “free-range”, and “pasture-raised” mean? What if the egg carton doesn’t contain any of those words on it? Are farm fresh eggs really the best choice?  What do the different seals and certifications mean? Do all of the labels found on the egg carton actually mean anything?

What should you strive to buy?

Basically all of these terms describe the different methods of egg production and the different levels of animal welfare standards.

I’ve set up the ultimate hack for reading egg carton labels so you can shop worry free and know exactly what you’re getting.

The Basics 

Most egg cartons have the same basic information printed on them, such as the size and weight of the eggs, the type of eggs (i.e., organic, cage-free, etc.), and the expiration date. The expiration date is important because it tells you when to consume the eggs.


What’s with all the different labels and why are there so many?


By the end of this post, you’ll be more confident with buying eggs at the store and know what you’re getting. What eggs you buy does actually matter. In the United States, the majority of the eggs produced come from chickens raised in cages. Keeping chickens in cages allows producers to keep the eggs at a lower cost. But having them live their lives in cages has really brought up a lot of questions about animal welfare. There are even concerns about “cage-free” hens. These chickens live in large warehouse-type structures. 

In any case, there are a lot of different labels. Some labels are required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Others are optional and required by the individual state, or they may be marketing ploys. In summary, some of the labels that you see on egg cartons aren’t even necessary.

Below is the breakdown of what the USDA requires, what labeling denotes egg production means, identifying labels that are merely marketing ploys, and what each welfare animal certification means.


What Labels are Required by the USDA, and What Do They Mean?


Surprisingly, the USDA doesn’t require too many labels on the egg carton. They require labeling like grade, size, legal line, nutritional facts paneling, the quantity of eggs in the carton, safety handling instructions, a statement of identity, and a USDA approval number. Everything else that you see on the carton is either optional or required by an individual state.

What do each of the USDA labels mean though?


The grading of eggs is a set US standard used to recognize the quality of the eggs. It involves sorting the eggs by size, weight, interior qualities like the condition of the white and yolk, the size of the air cell, and the shell’s shape and texture. 

There is an “ideal” shape looked that inspectors look for. By evaluating the shell for abnormalities, it can identify things like improper nutrition, disease, and even tell you about the physical health of the hen. The grade of the egg is put on the carton.

“If the USDA grademark (shield) is listed on the Principal Display Panel, the words “Grade AA or A” do not have to appear on the label, since the USDA grademark lists the Grade (AA or A) inside the grademark.”

AMS Labeling Guidance for Shell Eggs. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, 2018.

If you’d like to see every characteristic that they evaluate, check out the USDA’s Egg Grading Manual. 

Egg Size

The size of the egg is put on the carton. There is a set standard for indicating the size: Jumbo, Extra Large, Large, Medium, Small, or Pee Wee.

Legal Line

The legal line lists the following:

  • the name and address
  • where the eggs were packed
  • which company packed the eggs

Nutritional Facts Paneling

The egg carton must contain the nutritional facts, which notes the calories and nutrients of different size eggs.


The number of eggs packed in the carton.

Safety Handling Instructions

The safety handling instructions established by the FDA.  They note the refrigeration requirements as well as safety tips for cooking.

Statement of Identity

The carton states what type of item it contains. It essentially just has to say “EGGS” on the information panel of the carton.

USDA Approval Number

According to the USDA website the label approval number is required on the carton.

“[It] require[s] that all labeling materials bearing official USDA grademark identification receive approval from the National Office prior to use by a firm.”


AMS Labeling Guidance for Shell Eggs. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, 2018.

benefits of farm fresh eggs vs store bought


Production: What Do the Different Labels Mean?

Thus far we’ve reviewed all required labeling on egg cartons, which is all really straight forward and not complicated. Things tend to get a bit more complicated with the optional labeling companies put on the cartons.


What if There is No Label for Production of the Eggs?

If there is no indication of how the chickens are housed then the chickens were housed in cages. Most egg laying hens are caged in battery cages. They remain in those cages throughout their lives. These types of cages are small with only 67 square inches of space.The good news is that changes are coming to the industry! New laws were created to meet the demands expressed by restaurant chains. An article in PBS describes the events panning out.

The shift aims to make egg laying hens cage-free.

“In a decade, the percentage of hens in cage-free housing has soared from 4% in 2010 to 28% in 2020, and that figure is expected to more than double to about 70% in the next four years… “What we producers failed to realize early on was that the people funding all the animal rights activist groups, they were our customers. And at the end of the day, we have to listen to our customers,” said Marcus Rust, the CEO of Indiana-based Rose Acre Farms, the nation’s second-largest egg producer.”

Mcfetridge, s. (2022, february 11). Egg producers shift as public demand for cage-free hens grows. pbs.


Although cage-free isn’t the best living condition for a chicken, it’s only slightly better than caged chickens. Cage-free chickens aren’t confined to a small space. They live in large living spaces such as a barn or warehouse instead of cages. These hens are surrounded by thousands of other hens, making for cramped living conditions. Cage-free also aren’t the cleanest conditions either as the hens defecate. Once the feces dries, it can be breathed in by the chickens which can cause ailments not only for the chickens, but for workers as well. Additionally, these chickens do not have access to the outdoors.


Free-range chickens are provided with some access to the outdoors. What type of access to the outdoors varies from farm-to farm and does not mean that they were able to roam freely. The labeling can be quite misleading as farms can make this claim, but there are no required inspections to verify.

The FDA requires that labeling be truthful and not mislead the public. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no FDA regulatory definition for “free-range”. According to the USDA egg labeling guidelines, free range chicken eggs must,


“packed in USDA grademarked consumer packages labeled as free range must be produced by hens that are able to roam vertically and horizontally in indoor houses, and have access to fresh food and water, and continuous access to outdoors during their laying cycle. The outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. Housing systems vary from farm-to-farm, and can include multi-tier aviaries. They must allow hens to exhibit natural behaviors and include enrichments such as scratch areas, perches and nests. Hens must have access to litter, protection from predators and be able to move in the barn in a manner that promotes bird welfare.”

AMS Labeling Guidance for Shell Eggs. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, 2018.


Chickens with a lot of space to roam outdoors. Contrary to what you’ll see on labels claiming a ‘vegetarian diet’, chickens are actually omnivores. They eat a wide variety of things like plants and bugs, which is a chicken’s natural diet. “Pasture-raised” isn’t regulated by the FDA. Look for animal welfare certifications on the egg carton that can guide you better.  Animal welfare certifications provide insight into how the eggs were produced, conduct onsite inspections, and set standards certification holders must abide by.


Organic Versus Non-Organic Eggs


The difference between organic and non-organic labeling comes down to the actual diet of the chicken. The hens’ feed does not contain most synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers, and 100% of the agricultural ingredients must be certified organic. Antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited. Check for the USDA organic symbol that designates the USDA National Organic Program, or NOP, on the egg carton. To have a USDA organic certification, producers must go through an application process which includes the following steps:

  1. Adopt organic practices, select a USDA accredited certifier, and submit an application along with fees to the certifier.
  2. The certifying agent then reviews the application and the business’ practices to ensure they meet the USDA’s standards/requirements.
  3. Next, there is an on-site inspection of the operations.
  4. The certifying agent reports back whether the business meets the USDA’s standards. If the business meets the standards, it receives a certification.

Businesses then go through a 36 month long transition period during which they cannot sell, label, or represent their product as organic, nor can they use the USDA organic seal. Additionally, any law that produces any raw commodities must not have used substances not allowed under the USDA’s standards for at least 3 years. An example is any pesticides that are not USDA organic approved cannot be used on that land.

*** Important note: Although some producers may not have organic labeling on their products, it does not mean they don’t follow organic practices. Some producers may forego organic labeling because of the cost. To have the USDA organic seal on a product, producers must pay fees, which can be very expensive. Fees vary widely depending on the type of operation and how complex the operation is. Organic certifications can vary from hundreds of dollars to several thousands of dollars and cover the following: application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production, sales, and inspection fees. 




Labeling declaring ‘non-GMO’ relates to the type of feed that’s fed to the chickens. Non-GMO does not mean that the eggs are organic.


Marketing Ploys: Do All of the Labels Actually Mean Something?

Some of the labels you find on egg cartons may not have any significant meaning to them, and even be marketing ploys. Here are a few examples.


Antibiotic Claims

This is a marketing ploy. Per the USDA regulations, antibiotics cannot be administered to an egg laying hen through diet or injection. All eggs produced in the US are antibiotic free. Ailments affecting a hen decrease her ability to lay eggs. According to FDA regulations, any eggs produced by a hen that was administered antibiotics are supposed to be diverted from human consumption.

Farm Fresh 

The label ‘farm fresh’ is pretty pointless to have on an egg carton. All eggs, whether produced commercially or not, come from a farm.

Omega-3 Enriched Eggs

Omega-3 enriched eggs are eggs from chickens that have omega-3 supplemented into their feed. These eggs have 5 times more omega-3 in them than conventional eggs. 


Egg cartons labeled as ‘vegetarian-fed’ indicate the diet of the chicken. It is not the chicken’s natural diet as they are omnivores. This is to meet customer demand.

“Producer must maintain documentation that no animal byproducts were used to feed the source flock(s).”

AMS Labeling Guidance for Shell Eggs. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, 2018.

Gluten free

This is yet again a marketing ploy. All eggs are naturally gluten-free.

Zero Trans Fats

All eggs do not have any trans fats. However the labeling may stem from requirements to label food products that have trans fats.

Animal Welfare Certifications

The below certifications are only examples of the types of certifications that are out there for animal welfare. These certifications are not required and are totally up to the consumer when taking the animals’ well being into consideration.

Animal Welfare Approved

The Animal Welfare Approved certification sets the highest standards for a third-party certification process of caring for flocks.

The certification comes from ‘A Greener World’ (AGW), which is an organization that is hyper focused on sustainability in agriculture that is practical for both farmers and consumers.

The process to receive the Animal Welfare approved certification looks like following:

  1. Familiarization with the standards set forth by the organization which involves evaluating breeding, feed, shelter, and slaughtering practices. Record keeping of these practices are required for any onsite inspections.
  2. An audit of the farm is conducted covering birth to slaughter. The actual slaughtering process is reviewed by the organization’s trained slaughter specialists. So the farm and its animal processor will need to be up to par on all standards.
  3. The farm then applies and meets with an eligibility coordinator to set up an audit.
  4. The farm goes through the auditing process and receives certification.

There are about 5 different certifications that AWG offers (the organic certification is coming soon!)

List of certifications that can be acquired through a Greener World.
List of certifications that can be acquired through A Greener World.
“Certifications”. A Greener World.


Certified Humane

The Certified Humane seal requires an egg producer to pass 3 levels of certification with the Humane Animal Farm care in addition to third-party auditing to verify cage-free, free-range, or pasture-raised compliance.

According to Certified Humane’s website, they partnered with veterinarians, animal scientists,  and producers to establish their standards.

American Humane Certified

The American Humane Certified seal appears to be comparable to the standards set by Certified Humane. The certification comes from the American Humane Association and evaluates and confirms that egg producers’ flocks are truly cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised. Their standards were developed alongside an independent, credible Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC).

Food Alliance Certified

The Food Alliance Certification allows for an overview of a farm’s operations by assessing safe and fair working conditions, humane treatment of animals, environmental stewardship for farmers, ranchers, and the food and beverage industries. On-site inspections are conducted by a third-party to evaluate whether the operation meets the Food Alliance standards. There are several different types of certifications that producers can apply for: crop production; livestock; shellfish farms; nursery and greenhouse operations; packing processing, and distribution; beverages producers; and field grown hemp and cannabis producers.

This type of certification requires that the producer is recertified every 3 years. To read more about the certification process for each type of operation, see here.

Are All Eggs the Same?

No, all eggs are not the same. In spite of the nutritional facts being listed the same, these are just generic facts about eggs. Each egg producer feeds their chickens differently. Their environments also have an impact on the eggs produced by the hens. For example, according to a study “Free-range farming: A natural alternative to produce vitamin D-enriched eggs” found in ‘The International Journal of Applied and Basic Nutritional Sciences’, doctors  evaluated the amount of vitamin D in free-ranging chickens. The doctors concluded that by allowing the chickens to free-range, the eggs produced were naturally fortified with vitamin D. They evaluated three groups of chickens that were given different environments. One group of chickens were housed indoors, a second group was given indoor and outdoor access, while the third group had solely outdoor access. They found that the chickens that had access to only the outdoors had 3 to 4 times the amount of vitamin D in their egg yolks.

“Egg yolk from the outdoor group… averaged 14.3 μg/100 g dry matter (DM), followed by that from the indoor/outdoor group (11.3 μg/100 g DM). Yolk from indoor eggs contained only 3.8 μg vitamin D/100 g DM.”

Kühn, JULIA, et al. “Free-range farming: A natural alternative to produce vitamin D-enriched eggs.” The International Journal of Applied and Basic Nutritional Sciences, vol 30, no 4, oct 2013, p. 481.

What Eggs are the Best to Buy – Directly from the Farm or Store Bought?

In my opinion, eggs that are purchased direct from the farm are a much better quality egg in comparison to store bought ones. The taste alone differs between the two. However, I’ve found that it’s best to also research your eggs even for ones that are being directly purchased from the farm.

While I was recently looking for eggs to purchase from a farm, I searched farms’ websites to see if there was any indication as to how the birds live, what they’re fed, and whether they are free-range/pasture raised or not. One farm I found was not what I had anticipated. In reading their website, they kept their chickens indoors in a coop, which looked like a large shed with nesting boxes. It specifically stated that they are kept indoors and they have their own blend of feed that they give the chickens.

Although the transparency was greatly appreciated, I decided not to seek out buying those eggs because they don’t fit the standards I’m looking for. 

Ultimately, it’ll be your decision and what standards you’re looking for when it comes to buying eggs. Hopefully after providing the above breakdown, it’ll be easier for you to make choices based on your own standards. Plus, also in my opinion, it’s best to know what exactly you’re buying, especially if you’re spending the extra money to get say, pasture-raised eggs.




1. Do I need to pay attention to the expiration date?

There are different date labels that are found on egg cartons in the United States: best-by, sell-by, EXP (expiration abbreviation), and pack date. There is some flexibility with each of these labels in terms of whether the eggs are safe to eat or not.

  • Best-by indicates the level of peak quality and flavor when you eat them before the date set by the producer.
  • A sell-by date can’t be more than 30 days past the pack date. If you see a sell-by date, the eggs are already about 4 weeks old.
  • EXP, or expiration, is interchangeable with the usage of sell-by date.
  • The pack date indicates when the eggs were processed and packed. Eggs can be safely eaten 3 to 5 weeks past the pack date if they are stored properly.

As a note, after 5 weeks past the pack date, eggs start to lose their flavor and color. The texture of the egg may also change.

2. Is it safe to eat eggs that have been sitting out on the counter?

There are many countries that actually sell eggs unrefrigerated, which is completely strange to Americans. In stores in the United States, eggs are always stored in a refrigerator. Once eggs are refrigerated, they’re supposed to remain refrigerated at all times. However, for recipes you may be instructed to use room temperature eggs. According to the Egg Safety Center, eggs with their shells still intact (shell eggs) can remain out of the refrigerator for up to 2 hours. If the eggs are in a warm area of 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, the eggs must be put back into the refrigerator after an hour.

3. How can I tell if an egg is fresh?

The freshness of an egg can easily be tested with a water test. Fill a bowl or glass with 4 inches of water. Gently place the egg in the water. Very fresh eggs will settle to the bottom of the bowl or glass and lay on their sides. Eggs that stay on the bottom but stand on the narrow end are still acceptable to eat. Any eggs that float are no longer edible. Eggs that float have had oxygen permeate the shell and form a pocket of air.

Other indications that an egg has gone bad:

  • Smell – spoiled eggs have a pungent odor;
  • Appearance – any brown or black spots on the inside of the shell indicate mold. This does not apply to any brown or red spots found in the egg white or yolk. These are known as blood spots and can be removed.
  • Egg white’s consistency – a bad egg has a watery egg white.

4. How do I store eggs so that they stay fresh?

Keep the eggs stored in their original carton on an inside shelf in the refrigerator. The carton serves the purpose of  protecting the eggs from absorbing odors and flavors from other foods, as well as prevents moisture loss. The temperature in the fridge should be kept at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. What should I do if I find a cracked egg in my carton?

Toss the egg in the garbage. A cracked egg can harbor all sorts of bacteria.

7. Can I freeze eggs?

Shell eggs shouldn’t really be frozen. However, if you do happen to freeze them, they’ll hold up to one year. They should be consumed within 4 months of being frozen because that’s when their flavor will be the best. When you are ready to consume the eggs, thaw them.

9. Why are some eggs different colors?

The color of the eggs differ depending on the genetics of the chicken. 

Fun fact: The color of a chicken’s earlobes can indicate what color the egg will be. Chickens that have lighter earlobes with white feathers produce white eggs. Chickens that have different colored feathers and darker earlobes produce colored eggs. Colors can vary from pale green and blue, to brown and even speckled!



To summarize,

•Most egg cartons have the same basic information printed on them, such as the size and weight of the eggs, the type of eggs (i.e., organic, cage-free, etc.), and the expiration date.
• If there is no indication of how the chickens are housed, it’s assumed that they are housed in cages.
• Cage-free means that chickens live in large living spaces such as a barn instead of cages.
• Free-range means that chicken have some sort of access to the outdoors.
• Pasture-raised means that chickens have a lot space to roam outdoors and typically eat what chickens are supposed to (plants and bugs).


We hope you learned something from this quick dive into the world of eggs. Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a closer look at the labels on those egg cartons and see if you can figure out what kind of lifestyle the chicken that laid them lived. What did you learn that you didn’t know before?  Leave us a comment below! 

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