Food/Nutrition Columnist
On Your Egg Carton – Read It Today
Jul 1, 2013 - 12:02:14 AM

( - In the good old days you went to the store and bought eggs - brown or white, large, medium or small. Today it's not so simple anymore. It's a good thing eggs are sold by the dozen because egg cartons have become billboards for a wide range of information - nutrition information, grading, food dating, safe handling guidelines, and certification seals. Even the eggs themselves can be stamped with logos or dates. Sorting this out isn't easy.

Nutrition information: Egg cartons carry the standard nutrition facts panel, usually on the inside top lid. But, today we have newer designer eggs to choose from, ones that are high in vitamin E, lutein or heart healthy omega-3 fats. The composition of these eggs is altered by giving the chickens an enhanced feed. If you do not usually eat seafood, the best source of omega-3 fats are eggs rich in this healthy fat. But realize the omega-3-rich eggs are higher in cholesterol than fish and usually cost much more than traditional eggs.

Eggs are one of nature's truly remarkable products - they contain every nutrient needed to support life. Eggs have the highest quality protein; contain the pigments lutein and zeaxanthin which protect your eyes; have 12 minerals and 13 vitamins; are low in overall fat and saturated fat; and average 75 calories an egg. The one downside is that eggs contain cholesterol (186 milligrams in a large egg), all of which is found in the yolk. But research has shown that the cholesterol in eggs is less likely to raise blood cholesterol than saturated or trans fat. If your cholesterol is within normal range, it's fine to eat 4 to 7 eggs a week.

USDA egg grades: Grades AA, A, and B are determined by shell condition and egg quality and they are grouped by size - jumbo, extra large, large, medium, small and peewee. Recipes are usually developed with the assumption that the cook is using large eggs.  Most eggs sold in the supermarket are grade A with clean shells, high round yolks and thick whites. Grade B eggs have thinner whites and flatter yolks and are usually processed into liquid, frozen or dried products. The nutritional quality of all grades is equal.

Egg carton dating: All eggs displaying a USDA grade shield -- AA, A, or B -- must also display a "pack" date. This is a 3-digit code that represents the consecutive day of the year, with January 1 as 001 to December 31 as 365. There may also be a use by, sell by, or expiration date. None of these are required by the federal government but may be required by state or local regulations. The locally required dating systems are in place to avoid keeping eggs in the retail system too long. Purchase eggs before the use by, sell by or expiration date but realize that eggs will be good to use for 3 to 5 weeks after that.

Safe handling information: Eggs are perishable and may contain salmonella. The safe handling information on the carton is meant to keep people from getting sick. Don't eat raw or undercooked eggs, and refrigerate eggs in their original carton rather than on the refrigerator door. Salmonella doesn't make a chicken sick but it can live in their bodies and get into uncracked whole eggs. Eating raw eggs, raw cookie dough or batter, or health drinks containing raw eggs could make you sick. Thoroughly cooking eggs kills all bacteria.

Once the egg shell is cracked, bacteria can easily enter. Don't buy cracked eggs. If you accidentally crack an egg in handling, break the egg into a clean container, cover tightly, refrigerate, and use within 2 days. If an eggshell cracks during cooking, the egg is still safe to eat.

Shell and yolk color: All eggs are nutritionally equal. Eggshell color only tells you the breed of the hen. White shelled eggs are from white longhorn chickens, brown shelled from Rhode Island Reds and blue shelled from South African Araucanas. Some breeds even produce freckled eggs. In some areas of the country you pay a premium for brown-shelled eggs, in other places white-shelled cost more. Keep in mind that you throw away the shell you may have paid a premium to buy.

When it comes to egg yolks, the color is determined by the hen's diet. Artificial color additives are not permitted in eggs. Hen diets heavy in green and yellow plants produce a darker, yellow-orange yolk. Diets with more wheat or barley produce pale yellow yolks. Hens fed white cornmeal produce almost colorless yolks.

Bottom line: Fresh, shell eggs, are inexpensive, natural and nutritious. Nothing can be added because eggs come packaged in their own handy container.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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