Choosing Eggs – Which Carton of Eggs to Buy

Choosing eggs at the grocery store can be confusing. There are SO many options and descriptions on the cartons. What does it all mean and which ones should you buy?

so many different egg cartons

Occasionally I get eggs from my sister’s hens that roam about on their farm. But, like most people, I usually get my eggs at the grocery store where it’s easy to be overwhelmed by various packaging and claims found on egg cartons. In one visit, I saw all of these options:

Free Run
Free Range
Furnished/Enriched Caged
Comfort Coop
Nest laid
Standard or Classic Egg
Organic
Omega 3
Vitamin Enhanced
Omega 3 Plus
Vegetarian

It’s hard to keep up with all these terms. What do they mean? Which eggs should I buy?

First, let’s just get one thing straight – there is no bad egg! If you’re choosing eggs – no matter what kind – you’re making a good choice. Eggs are a good, healthy and affordable source of nutrients. Buy whatever eggs meet your personal preferences and that you can afford.

In Canada, all eggs sold in stores:

  • are Grade A quality
  • are antibiotic or hormone free (whether the carton says so or not)

Choosing the Right Eggs

The right egg carton is the one that fits your preferences for value, nutrient content, animal welfare, name brand, packaging, supporting local, or whatever.

For Best Price

Choose standard, regular eggs in traditional packaging. Choose either brown or white eggs, they are the same on the inside, they just come from different breeds of chicken.

feed info
In Canada, antibiotics or hormones are not permitted in any hen food, regardless of whether it’s labelled as such or not.

For Best Nutrient Content

Want extra nutrients? Choose eggs from hens that have been fed a very specific diet of nutrient rich foods like flaxseed to increase Omega 3 fatty acids or Vitamin E to boost Vitamin E content. It’s a convenient way of getting these nutrients if you’re not getting them from other sources. Look for eggs labeled: Vitamin Enhanced, Omega 3 or Omega 3 Plus eggs. These eggs cost more. You’ll find the following labels:

Omega 3 or Omega 3 Plus – hens are fed a diet high in foods containing Omega 3 (flaxseed) – housing conditions vary

Vitamin Enhanced – hens are fed diets enriched with various nutrients eg. Vitamins D, E and B12 and Folacin – housing conditions vary

Vegetarian Eggs – hens are fed food based on plant material only, no animal by-products (chickens are naturally omnivorous)

Organic – hens are fed organic food (no synthetic herbicides or pesticides) and housing must include nest boxes, perches, litter (for pecking) and some access to outdoors

For Greatest Hen Comfort

happy hens good eggs
Hens on my sisters farm, roaming about eating insects, grubs and greens.

Like me, you probably like the idea of hens roaming green pastures where they can do their thing and come home to roost in a warm, comfy shelter. And, yes, you can find local farmers and buy eggs directly from them. It’s a great option, especially if you can visit the farm and get to know your farmer.

But we know that feeding the world can’t rely on this approach alone. That’s why we have commercial egg farmers to provide us with eggs. Concern for food safety and animal welfare has caused the industry to become more standardized with continual improvement and research into the most efficient, effective and animal friendly way to produce quality eggs.

Here are some of the different housing conditions hens are kept in. You’ll usually find these labels on the egg carton, if you don’t, then it’s likely that the eggs came from hens in a conventional housing system.

Conventional Housing – a group of hens in a cage with no perch or nest box.

Free Run – hens are kept in an open barn, often with perches and nest boxes (access to outdoor space is not required).

Free Range – hens are kept in open barn with some access to outdoors (weather permitting). The size of access and what the outdoor space is like (concrete, bare ground or pasture) can vary with each farm.

Enhanced/Comfort Coop/Furnished/Enriched/Nest Laid – hens are caged in small groups. They have more space than conventional housing, access to a private nest box, scratch pads and perch bars.a group of hens in a cage with a perch and a nest box.

Pastured Chickens – hens are on pastures, are moved to new pastures and stay in coops at night (typically, small flocks cared for by independent, local farmers)

I hope this information helps you when you make your next egg purchase.  Which type of eggs will you choose?   

Here are some of my other articles on eggs.

How to Make Easy Peel Hard Boiled Eggs

Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Eggs

How to Freeze Eggs

Hard Cooked Eggs in the Oven – Not All Their Cracked Up to Be

Best Deviled Eggs Ever

Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist,  speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas.  She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.

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