A Guide to Egg Quality

Learn how to determine egg quality, from freshness and color to shell strength and cleanliness.

| April 2012

Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens (Storey Publishing, 2010) contains vital information for keeping your chickens safe and happy, including how to deal with predators, avoiding diseases, daily bird management and coop designs. In this excerpt about egg quality from Chapter 8, “Eggs for Eating,” Gail Damerow explains the difference between egg grades and how to ensure your hens are top-notch layers. 

Commercial eggs are sorted — according to exterior and interior egg quality — into three grades established by the United States Department of Agriculture: AA, A, and B. For all egg grades, the shell must be intact. Nutritionally, all grades are the same.

Grades AA and A are nearly identical, the main difference being that Grade A eggs are slightly older than Grade AA eggs. Grade AA eggs therefore have firmer, thicker whites that hold the yolks up high and round, whereas the white of a Grade A egg is “reasonably firm,” meaning it spreads a little farther when you break the egg into a frying pan. Grade A are the eggs you are most likely to see at a grocery store. Both grades are suitable for frying, poaching, and other dishes in which appearance is important.

Grade B eggs have stained or abnormal shells, minor blood or meat spots and other trivial defects. They are used in the food industry to make liquid, frozen, and powdered egg products, so you are unlikely to find them at a grocery store. Homegrown Grade B eggs are best used for scrambling, baking, and similar recipes in which the eggs are stirred.

Any egg that does not fit into one of these three categories is unfit for human use and consumption. Although you needn’t worry about grading your homegrown eggs, the USDA grading system offers a guideline for assessing the quality of the eggs your hens produce.

Exterior Egg Quality

Exterior egg quality refers to a shell’s appearance, cleanliness, and strength. Appearance is important because the shell is the first thing you notice about an egg. Cleanliness is important because the shell is the egg’s first defense against bacterial contamination; the cleaner the shell, the easier it can do its job. Strength influences the egg’s ability to remain intact until you’re ready to use it.

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