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What’s All The Hype – Cage Free Eggs

Posted on March 14, 2012 at 9:24 PM by Iowa Corn

This is part of series of articles called, What’s All the Hype?  The goal of this series is to answer questions about food and how it is raised and grown.  If you have a topic that you have questions about, please leave it in the comments section!

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Most people know that eggs are an important part of a healthy diet.  Eggs have high quality protein that helps you stay fuller longer and research shows that eggs consumed at the beginning of the day can reduce calorie intake and decrease snacking between meals. 

Because I’m trying to eat healthier, I’ve been incorporating more eggs into my breakfast.  Searching for new recipes, I’ve noticed people are promoting “Cage-Free” eggs.  This seems to stem from recent egg recalls.  And I started wondering if hen housing really does matter in the safety of the eggs we eat?

I didn’t grow up on a farm with egg laying hens, so I wanted to define the different terms out there.  I went to Bestfoodfacts.org for help defining these terms. 

Below are the definitions from Bestfoodfacts.org:

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  • Conventional Cages – This system provides 67-86 square inches per bird, as well as continuous food and water.  The industry currently uses the conventional egg system most frequently.

  • Enriched Colony Housing Units – This system provides around 116 to 144 square inches per bird, again with constant feed and water.  But there are perches, a forage mat or scratch pad area as well as a nest box or an area where the birds can have some privacy to lay eggs.

  • Cage Free – There is a colony nest box which usually runs down the center of the house with a slatted area where the feed and water are located so the hens can go into the nesting are to lay their eggs.

  • Free Range – The key feature of free-range housing is access to an outdoor are during the day.

Now back to the question at hand- Does Hen Housing matter in the safety of eggs?

Bestfoodfacts.org also interviewed experts on this topic. Their experts indicate there is no scientific evidence to support eggs from free-range and cage free systems are safer than eggs from caged hens.

I was pleased to see that egg farmers (like all other farmers) are interested in improving their production practices to decrease the occurrence of Salmonella through research and improving management practices. Egg producers want to produce safe food and they really don’t want consumers to get sick by eating their product. 

Even though egg producers are following safe practices to raise eggs, there is still a risk of Salmonella (a naturally occurring bacteria) to be present in eggs. Scientists estimate that, on average across the U.S., only 1 of every 20,000 eggs might contain the bacteria. To reduce the risk of getting sick, use safe food handling procedures and cook eggs thoroughly.  If we do these simple food safety suggestions we can have the benefits of eggs in our diets without worrying about getting sick from eating them. (Bummer – I guess that means no more raw cookie dough!)

Also, I think that the quick food recalls that we have in the United States shows how our safe food system is working.  In just a few days, we can track tainted products from who ate them, to where that food was purchased and when, where it was processed and finally what farm it came from.  I think that shows a lot about the U.S. food system.  

If you are interested in new recipes that use eggs for your breakfast, the American Egg Board has some great recipes at www.incredibleegg.org/recipes-and-more/recipes

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