Small-Scale Egg Handling - 3

This is the third and final part of this publication Small Scale Egg Handling by ATTRA, the US National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. It covers egg storage and distribution, site facilities, egg products, government regulations and grading, and special considerations for organic egg producers.
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Storage and Distribution

After processing, eggs should be stored at 45°F to prevent microbial growth. Humidity should be kept at 70 to 85 per cent. Clean eggs stored at these conditions will keep for three months (Damerow, 1995). In a standard refrigerator, where the humidity is lower, washed eggs only keep for five weeks.

In large-scale commercial production, eggs usually reach the packing plant only a few days after hens lay them (USDA FSIS, 2007). Eggs packed under federal regulations require the pack date to be displayed on the carton. It is a three-digit Julian date that represents the consecutive day of the year. The carton is also dated with the sell-by or expiration date (Exp.), depending on the state. Eggs with a federal grade must be sold within 30 days from day of pack (USDA FSIS, 2007a). The USDA recommends that consumers buy eggs before the expiration date and use them within three to five weeks. In June 2006, a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA AMS) rule prohibited the re-packaging of eggs previously shipped for retail sale that were packed under its grading programme.

Small speciality producers should sell their eggs within seven days of lay so that the eggs are as fresh or fresher than conventional eggs.

Site Facility

In the United States about 30 per cent of eggs are consumed in the form of egg products such as broken whole eggs, yolks and whites.

The handling area should generally be clean and free of insects, vermin and other possible contaminants. Some states may require screened windows; rodent-proof doors; washable walls and floors with all joints caulked; potable water; sanitary drainage; and no pets in the building (Plamondon, 2000).

Oregon egg producer, Robert Plamondon, describes his egg washing area:

Our egg-washing is done in our garage (which we don’t use for vehicles). Just about any garage that already has a concrete floor, water, a drain going to the septic system and adequate electrical power could be converted pretty cheaply. Basically, the food-safety inspectors want to see an installation that appears to be built to code and is appropriate for proper food handling, which mostly revolves around keeping bugs and rodents out, being easy to clean, having enough sinks, and having potable water so you’re taking bacteria away when you wash, not adding them (Plamondon, 2000).

Egg Products

Small-scale producers usually sell only shell eggs, not processed eggs. However, in the United States about 30 per cent of eggs are consumed in the form of egg products such as broken whole eggs, yolks and whites. After breaking, egg products are sold as liquid, dried and frozen products. Yolks are salted or sugared if frozen to prevent forming a rubbery gel upon thawing. In large-scale processing, egg products are pasteurized after breaking to kill microbes. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) inspects these operations. Egg products are used in food manufacturing. For more information, see the USDA FSIS Egg Products and Food Safety Fact Sheets [click here].

Government Regulations and Grading

A producer with a flock of fewer than 3,000 hens is exempt from complying with the Egg Products Inspection Act. The Egg Products Inspection Act was passed in 1970 to ensure egg products are safe for human consumption. In 1972, quarterly on-site inspections of all shell egg processors became required. This Shell Egg Surveillance program ensures that shell eggs are as good or better than grade B. For more information, see 7 CFR, Part 57 of the Regulations Governing the Inspection of Eggs [click here].

The USDA AMS has a voluntary egg grading service for shell eggs that is paid for by plants. The Regulations Governing the Inspection of Eggs 7 CFR, Part 56 describes how eggs should be processed under the voluntary grading programme. [For more information, click here.] Under this service, USDA graders continuously monitor the grading and packing of eggs to ensure that the eggs meet quality and size standards. In addition, plant processing equipment, facilities, sanitation and operating procedures are verified according to regulation requirements. By meeting these requirements, eggs packed at official plants are eligible to carry the USDA grade shield. The Egg Grading Manual is an excellent resource [click here]. With more emphasis on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and high quality, the Plant Sanitation and Good Manufacturing Practices Program (PSGMP) is also available under voluntary grading.

Although small-scale egg producers do not have to comply with federal programmes, they need to follow state egg laws. Although states have exemptions for small producers, some states are quite rigorous in terms of washing, candling and temperature requirements during storage and sale. Many eggs are sold ungraded at farmers’ markets.

Organic Egg Handling

In order to be certified organic, the eggs must be handled or processed under requirements of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the processing facility must be certified organic. Organic handling requirements are covered in CFR § 205.270 to 205.272 of the NOP.

In general, organic processing requires:

  • The use of organic ingredients or ingredients allowed by the National List
  • Management that prevents contamination with prohibited substances
  • Facility pest management that prevents contamination
  • Management that prevents commingling with nonorganic products (Kuepper et al., 2009), and
  • Proper record-keeping and audit control procedures that ensure traceability of the product and proper use of the organic seal.


Proper handling is a critical part of any egg business despite the size of the operation. Proper handling ensures quality and safety for consumers and compliance with state and federal regulations. The information given in this publication provides viable options for small- and medium-sized egg producers in executing proper handling within their own production system.


Bigbee, D.E. and G.W. Froning. 1997. Egg Cleaning Procedure for the Household Flock. NebGuide. G79- 466-A. University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension, Lincoln, Ne.

Damerow, G. 1995. A Guide to Raising Chickens. Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, VT. 341 pp

Davis, J. 2005. Re: Kenmore Egg Washer Test. E-mail posting to PasturePoultry Listserver, Sept. 13, 2005.

Entani E., M. Asai, S. Tsujihata, Y. Tsukamoto and M. Ohta. 1998. Antibacterial action of vinegar against food-borne pathogenic bacteria including Escherichia coli O157:H7. Journal of Food Protection. Vol. 61 (8) 953-959.

Geiger, G., W. Russell and H. Enos. 1995. Management: The Family Egg Supply. No. 2.510. Colorado State Extension. 3 p.

Guebert, M. 2007. Re: Egg washing machine. Online Posting, 9 March 2007. Yahoo Pasture Poultry Listserver.

Hutchison, M.L., J. Gittins, A. Walker, A. Moore, C. Burton and N. Sparks. 2003. Washing table eggs: A review of scientific and engineering issues. World’s Poultry Science Association. 59:233-248.

Kuepper, G., H. Born and A. Fanatico. 2009. Farm Made: A Guide to On-Farm Processing for Organic Producers. The Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Poteau, Oklahoma. 44 p.

McGlynn, W. Guidelines for the Use of Chlorine Bleach as a Sanitizer in Food Processing Operations. Food Technology Fact Sheet. Oklahoma State University.

Musgrove, M., S. Trabue, J. Shaw and D. Jones. 2008. Efficacy of Post-Washing Shell Egg Sanitizers. Poultry Science Association Meeting Abstract. p.42

Parkhurst, C. and G. Mountney. 1988. Poultry Meat and Egg Production. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York.

Plamondon, R. 2000. Egg washers, candling, &c. Online Posting, 23 Dec. 2000. Yahooo Pasture Poultry Listserver.

Plamondon, R. 2001. Re: Washing Eggs. Online Posting, 23 May 2001. Yahoo Pasture Poultry Listserver.

Plamondon, R. 2003. Re: Immersion Egg Washers (Also, USDA Egg Regulations). Online Posting, 7 Feb. 2003. Yahoo Pasture Poultry Listserver.

USDA. 1990. Egg-Grading Manual. Agriculture Handbook No. 75. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Washington, DC. 36 pp.

USDA FSIS. 2007. Inspection of Eggs and Egg Products. Code of Federal Regulations. 9CFR 590.515.

USDA FSIS. 2007a. Shell Eggs from Farm to Table Fact Sheet. Accessed June 2009.

USDA FSIS. 2007b. Food Product Dating Fact Sheet. Accessed June 2009.

USDA FSIS. 2008. Guidance for Shell Egg Cleaners and Sanitizers. Accessed June 2009.

Zeidler, G. 2002. Processing and Packaging Shell Eggs. p. 1107-1129. In: D.D. Bell and W.D. Weaver (eds.). Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production 5th ed. Springer Publishers, New York, NY.

Further Reading

- You can view Part 2 of this publication by clicking here.

November 2009
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