Or five reasons why you don’t want to buy eggs (even the organic eggs) at the supermarket.
Update (November 13, 2014): Be sure to check out our complete egg primer – Eggs 101.
1. Nutrient content in eggs from farm-fresh, free-range, grain-fed, hormone-free naturally-raised chickens is higher than in commercially raised eggs.
According to studies conducted by Mother Earth News eggs sold in supermarkets are typically nutritionally inferior to eggs from chickens raised on pasture. Specifically they found that eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:
- 1/3 less cholesterol
- 1/4 less saturated fat
- 2/3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
- 4-6 times as much vitamin D
2. Eggs sold at Farmers’s Markets are fresher than supermarket eggs.
Eggs sold at your local Farmers’ Markets are usually gathered just prior to bringing them to market. Eggs sold at the supermarket have taken days (sometimes weeks) to get there. The USDA requires processing within 30 days of lay. After processing and transport those supermarket eggs can be even older than that. Fresh eggs are more nutritious and taste better.
3. Eggs sold in supermarkets may have been disinfected using chlorine or lye (even the organic ones).
Eggshells are porous so it is important to consider what substances come in contact with eggs. Similar to how substances absorb through your skin, substances touching the eggshell can pass into the egg. One of the USDA’s required processing steps for eggs sold in the supermarket is cleaning/disinfecting. The USDA National Organic Program’s List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances allowed in egg processing includes chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, potassium hydroxide (lye) and peracetic acid. Chlorine or lye in my egg? Uh, no thanks. The FDA regulations for non-organic eggs are even more worrisome. The USDA’s Guidance for Shell Egg Cleaners and Sanitizers says “Unfortunately, FDA does not have any published regulations dealing with shell egg cleaning and destaining compounds.” Ugh.
Naturally, eggs have a waxy layer called the cuticle or bloom that seals the pores and helps keep out bacteria. Most commercial egg washing methods damage the eggshell’s cuticle. The odds of bacteria passing through the shell and ending up in the egg you eat are much greater if the protective layer is damaged.
In addition, eggs that come from crowded conditions in factory farms are much “dirtier” than eggs laid in open pasture. There are numerous studies* published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature showing that caging hens results in significantly more salmonella contamination. The USDA’s cleaning regulation doesn’t seem to help matters – it’s a vicious circle.
Dirty eggs -> chemical bath -> damaged eggs more prone to bacterial contamination
5. Farmers’ Markets attract chicken farmers who promote the humane treatment of animals.
At Farmers’ Markets you’ll find eggs from chickens that have been raised without hormones or antibiotics, who have grazed on open pastures, fed a natural grain diet and who have been spared the dark and cramped living conditions often found at the large commercial chicken factories.
If the first four reasons to buy eggs at the Farmers’ Market didn’t sway you and now you’re thinking “the eggs I purchase at the grocery store are labeled free-range”, keep this in mind: The USDA requires that eggs labeled “free-range” have access to the outdoors. They don’t specify whether the outdoors is a pasture or a cement strip, the only requirement is that it be outdoors. So those “free-range” chickens aren’t necessarily roaming on green pastures.
The only way to really know what happened during your egg’s journey from chicken to your plate is to ask the farmer. Purchasing eggs from your local Farmers’ Market gives you the opportunity to ask questions about the eggs you are buying.
Where have you found the best eggs?
Snow, L. C., Davies, R. H., et al. “Investigation of risk factors for Salmonella on commercial egg-laying farms in Great Britain, 2004-2005”. Veterinary Record May 8, 2010.
Huneau-Salaun, Adeline, Chemaly, Marianne, et al. “Risk factors for Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica contamination in 519 French laying hen flocks at the end of the laying period”. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 89 (2009): 51-58.
Namata, Harriet, Meroc, Estelle et al. “Salmonella in Belgian laying hens: An identification of risk factors”. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 83 (2008): 323-336.
Molbak, Kare and Jakob Neimann. “Risk Factors for Sporadic Infection with Salmonella Enteritidis, Denmark, 1997-1999”. American Journal of Epidemiology 158 (2002): 654-661.