For such a simple food, buying eggs can be complicated. Eggs come in various colors, sizes, and grades and from chickens that are housed, fed, and treated differently. Short of raising your own chickens, how can you tell what’s what when it comes to eggs?

Terms To Know


If a carton of eggs sports the voluntary USDA shield, these are the criteria used for the grading: Grade AA eggs have thick, firm whites; yolks that are high, round, and practically free from defects; and clean, unbroken shells. Grade A eggs are the same as Grade AA, except that the whites are “reasonably” firm. Grade B eggs might have slight stains on the shells, the whites may be thinner, and the yolks wider and flatter than AA or A eggs. If the eggs have a grade without the USDA shield, it means they’ve met specific state standards.


The eggshell color—white, brown, pink, and even green and blue—simply depends on the breed of chicken and has no effect on the egg’s quality or taste.


This doesn’t refer to the dimension of each egg, but the minimum weight required per dozen eggs, from peewee (15 ounces) to jumbo (30 ounces). Most recipes are based on large eggs, which weigh in at 24 ounces per dozen.

Unfertilized eggs mean that the hens were housed without roosters.

Fertilized eggs are produced from cohabitating hens and roosters. (But don’t worry—refrigeration stops cells from growing and prevents embryos from forming.)

Cage-free* hens are allowed to roam inside barns or warehouses, but they don’t necessarily have access to the outdoors. Uncaged chickens can engage in some natural behaviors that caged birds cannot, like walking, nesting, and perching.

There are many certifications verified by USDA for humanely raised chickens; some set standards for hens’ space and access to the outdoors, and some also prohibit forced molting (via starvation) and/or beak cutting.

Free-range and free-roaming* apply to hens that are cage-free. There are no regulations for exactly how these hens are raised differently from “cage-free” hens, but the understanding is that true free-range eggs come from hens that forage on pasture for green plants and insects.

Pastured or pasture-raised* eggs come from hens raised outdoors on grass

* Refers to terms not regulated by nor certified through USDA (or other organizations recognized by USDA).

Fortified eggs contain supplemental nutrients. In order to boost the amount of a specific nutrient in eggs, chickens may have their diets tweaked—added flax for increased omega 3 fatty acids or marigold extract for more lutein, for example.

Certified organic eggs come from chickens raised on organic feed and without the use of hormones or antibiotics. As regulated by the USDA National Organic Program, they are given access to the outdoors, though the type and amount of access are undefined.

Vegetarian eggs are produced by hens whose feed is free of animal by-products. This term is not regulated nor certified, and while the absence of animal by-products in feed is praised by many, the vegetarian label is also criticized since a natural diet would include hens foraging for grubs.

Our Values

We know that making good decisions about what to buy can be complicated. We put a lot of time and thought into every purchasing decision we make, so that you can trust all of choices you have at the DCM. We want you to know that every product on the shelves at the Durham Co-op Market has been hand-selected by our team with our values in mind:

Supporting the Local Economy

Environmental Stewardship


Dignity of Workers

If you ever have any questions, concerns, or suggestions about any product you find at our store, we want to hear it! You can always call us at (919) 973-1707 or email us at