Before today, I had no idea what the different labels on egg cartons meant: Organic, Cage Free, Free Range, Brown/White, Grade AA, Grade A, All Natural, Farm Fresh…
I did some research, though, and now I have a better understanding. I compiled my learnings below — it’s interesting stuff to know. If you’re interested in the subject, I hope this is helpful! 🐣🐣🐣
BROWN VS. WHITE. There is no difference between brown or white eggs other than the way they look. They come from different breeds of chickens, but they’re all the same on the inside and there’s no significant nutritional difference.
ALL-NATURAL & FARM FRESH. These labels are not officially used by the USDA and have no relevance to how the chickens were raised. According to USDA standards, the term Natural “simply means that nothing was added to the egg” and that “all eggs meet this criteria”. These are just normal eggs that come from commercially-farmed chickens. They likely live in cages in hen houses where:
- Temperature, humidity, and ventilation are controlled.
- There is no exposure to sunlight. Instead, fluorescent lights are turned on for 15 hours per day.
- Hens eat a measured amount of food, 3 times per day.
- Hens have no ability to roam free or exercise. 
CAGE FREE. Eggs with this label from chickens raised in hen houses with no cages, where:
- The climate is controlled
- Hens roam on the floor of the barn and have space to perch and scratch
- There is nesting space available (hens prefer to lay eggs in private)
- The conditions are still tight, in a dark, barn-like setting, with little exposure to sunlight. 
“Cage Free” can be deceiving — the term makes it sound like the chickens are free roaming, which isn’t necessarily true.
FREE RANGE. This label is the most ambiguous. As defined by the USDA, Free Range means that the chickens “have been allowed access to the outside”. However, there are no requirements for the amount/duration/quality of access. So, under this definition a farmer could technically earn the label Free Range by providing chickens with a “pop hole” with no full-body access to the outdoors.
It would be helpful if the USDA created more clearly-defined standards, like Certified Humane. Under their system, the highest rating an egg can achieve is Pasture Raised, which requires each bird to have 108 square feet of open space. The birds must also be outdoors year-round, with housing where they can go inside at night to protect themselves from predators, or for up to two weeks out of the year, due only to very inclement weather.
Since the USDA’s Free Range label encompasses such a wide degree of outdoor access, a consumer’s best bet is to look at the farm information on the box. You can Google the farm’s practices and learn how they raise their chickens.
ORGANIC. Eggs labeled as USDA Organic come from chickens that are fed an organic diet of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.
EGG GRADING. There are 3 USDA consumer grades for eggs: AA, A, and B. Grades are determined by an egg’s interior quality, and the appearance & condition of its shell.
- GRADE AA is the best rating. These eggs have whites that are thick and firm; yolks that are high, round, and practically free from defects; and clean, unbroken shells.
- GRADE A is the 2nd best rating. These eggs have characteristics of Grade AA eggs except that the whites are “reasonably” firm. This is the quality most often sold in stores.
- GRADE B is the 3rd best rating. These eggs have whites that may be thinner and yolks that may be wider and flatter than AA or A-grade. The shells must be unbroken, but may show slight stains. This quality is seldom found in retail stores because they are usually used to make liquid, frozen, and dried egg products.
EGG SIZE. The size listed on a carton tells you the minimum required weight per dozen. It does not have anything to do with the dimensions of an egg or how big it looks. It is simply the total weight of the dozen eggs that puts them in one of the following classes:
|Size or Weight Class||Minimum net weight per dozen|
|Extra Large||27 ounces|
- Time | A Guide to What Kind of Eggs You Should Buy
- Wake The Wolves | How to Shop for Eggs
- Serious Eats | What Egg Labels Mean
- Discovery Channel / Science Channel | How It’s Made: Eggs
- Willamette Egg Farms | Cage-Free Aviary
- Wiltshire Farm | Andrew Jackson’s Organic Free-Range Eggs
- Certified Humane | “Free Range” and “Pasture Raised” officially defined by HFAC for Certified Humane label
- Humane Society | How to Read Egg Carton Labels
- Expert Village | The Difference Between Caged & Free-Range Chickens
- Expert Village | How to Read Chicken Egg Carton Labels
- USDA | Eggstra! Eggstra! Learn All About Them