By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.
Selling organic eggs in Maine requires knowing the regulations for licensing, certification, labeling, etc. Here’s a summary of some of those rules, with links to more extensive information.
Licensing and Labeling
If you raise fewer than 3,000 laying hens, you don’t need a license or inspection from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Quality Assurance and Regulations to sell eggs. But the department does require that eggs offered for retail sale be labeled with:
- the name and address of the person or persons responsible for packing
- the grade – eggs for sale must meet a minimum grade of B if they are sold any place other than the farm door
- weight and count
- safe handling instruction (“Keep Refrigerated at 45˚ F or less.”)
If you pack in used cartons, you must obliterate any USDA shield; obliterate grade declarations and replace them with “B” (unless you want to candle the eggs), then the affix your label.
Grades are determined by candling (holding an egg in front of a light, such as a 60 watt bulb, so that you can see inside) to measure the air cell and determine the quality of the white and yoke, besides the cleanliness and shell quality. A Grade A egg is clean, unbroken, practically normal with an air cell less than 3/16 inch, has unlimited movement of the yoke within the white and is “free or bubbly,” i.e., the white is not bound to the egg shell and can look bubbly when the egg is candled. The white must be clear and reasonably firm, the yolk free from defects.
The Maine Department of Agriculture recommends that folks who cannot candle their eggs should label their eggs grade B, which includes all but the worst eggs. If you can candle your eggs, explicit rules dictate what is allowed for each grade. This information is available from the USDA (www.usda.gov) and the Maine Department of Agriculture (287-3871; www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/htsearch?config=state&words=egg+regulations).
Weight classes are:
Small – 1.4 oz./egg and 18.2 oz./dozen
Medium – 1.7 oz./egg and 21.3 oz./dozen
Large – 1.9 oz./egg and 24.3 oz./dozen
Extra-large – 2.2 oz./egg and 27.3 oz./dozen
Jumbo – 2.5 oz./egg and 30.4 oz./dozen
Another way to grade eggs according to USDA regulations is called “U.S. Nest Run % AA Quality,” which: “shall consist of eggs of current production of which at least 20 percent are AA quality; and the actual percentage of AA quality eggs shall be stated in the grade name. Within the maximum of 15 percent which may be below A quality, not more than 10 percent may be B quality for shell shape, pronounced ridges or thin spots, interior quality (including meat or blood spots), or due to rusty or blackish-appearing cage marks or blood stains, not more than 5 percent may have adhering dirt or foreign material on the shell 1/2 inch or larger in diameter, not more than 6 percent may be Checks [cracks], and not more than 3 percent may be Loss [losses from checks, dirt, etc.]. Marks which are slightly gray in appearance and adhering dirt or foreign material on the shell less than 1/2 inch in diameter are not considered quality factors. The eggs shall be officially graded for all other quality factors. No case may contain less than 75 percent A quality and AA quality eggs in any combination.”
The weight classes for Nest Run % AA Quality are:
XL – 1.7lb./doz., 2.2 oz. each
1 – 1.6 lbs. and 2.1oz.
2 – 1.5 lbs. and 2 oz.
3 – 1.4 lbs. and1.9 oz.
4 – 1.3 lbs. and 1.8 oz.
Restricted eggs and cracked, dirty, leakers or incubator rejects can be sold only directly to the consumer. They must be labeled as Restricted.
Fresh eggs must be fewer than 30 days old; older eggs must be labeled as “Storage Eggs.” Eggs that have been treated to inhibit natural deterioration must be labeled “Processed.” The terms “fresh eggs,” ”strictly fresh eggs,” “hennery eggs,” “newly laid eggs,” “farm fresh eggs,” “selected eggs,” “quality certified eggs,” “nearby eggs,” “native eggs” or words or descriptions of similar import shall not be used on any eggs that do not meet the minimum requirements for Maine consumer Grade A.
Blood or meat spots are found occasionally on an egg yolk and merely reflect either the genetics or age of the hen. They occur when a blood vessel ruptures on the yolk surface when it’s being formed or by a similar accident in the wall of the oviduct.
Many natural barriers help prevent bacteria from entering eggs. The “bloom” or “cuticle,” a gelatinous covering that dries after the egg emerges from the hen, helps seal the pores in the shell, reducing moisture loss and bacterial penetration. The many egg membranes also help prevent the passage of bacteria. The shell membranes contain lysozyme, an enzyme that helps prevent bacterial infection. The egg white discourages bacterial growth because it is alkaline and binds nutrients in a form that bacteria can’t use, and the thick white discourages the movement of bacteria. As the egg ages, the white thins and the yolk membrane weakens, enabling bacteria to reach the nutrient-dense yolk, where they can grow over time if the egg is kept warm. In a clean, fresh shell egg, internal contamination rarely occurs.
Care in the hen house helps produce healthy eggs. Have one nest box for every four to five hens. Keep the bedding clean and deep. Collect eggs often and at least twice a day in the winter to prevent freezing. Don’t stack eggs more than five layers deep when carrying them. Some customers want unwashed eggs that are protected by the natural factors mentioned above. The quality of unrefrigerated eggs will decrease faster than that of refrigerated eggs, as the white gets thinner faster, but if refrigeration is not possible, these naturally protected eggs will keep well for many weeks or months. If you want to produce unwashed eggs, use sandpaper to remove
small bits of dirt.
If you prefer to wash eggs, use water that is 20 degrees warmer than the egg and is at least 90 F; this will make the egg contents swell and push dirt away from the pores of the egg. If you have extremely dirty eggs, a mild detergent or sanitizer approved for washing eggs can be used. Sanitizers that are approved for use in organic production include chlorine (1/2 oz. to 1 gal. of water), vinegar (2 oz. to 1 gal. of water), or one of the following products mixed according to label instructions: sodium hypochlorite, potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, sodium bicarbonate, peracetic acid, or AFCO 5242 Egg Wash Org. Never let eggs sit in water, and don’t submerge them; just have them in a colander and slosh them in the cleaner. Otherwise, once the temperature equalizes, the egg can absorb contaminants from the water. Cool and dry eggs quickly after washing, then store them, large end up, at 45 F and at 75 percent relative humidity. Cleaned eggs sitting at room temperature can drop as much as one grade per day.
If eggs are stored properly in their own carton or other stable environment, they should hold a quality of Grade A for at least four weeks. Store eggs small end down in an egg carton to keep the air cell (the pocket of air inside the egg) stable, which should decrease breakdown of the egg white and decrease the possibility of contamination.
Those who sell eggs are encouraged to have product liability insurance. Your homeowner’s insurance may not be adequate. Speak to your insurance agent to make certain your product is covered.
When calculating the price for your eggs, consider:
- the 3.5 to 4 pounds of feed a laying hen needs to produce a dozen eggs
- the cost of the pullets you buy, or the costs of the chicks, their feed, electricity for brooding, and housing costs until they are pullets that are ready to lay
- the time the enterprise takes and how much your time is worth.
The few farmers reporting prices to MOFGA in 2010 were charging $4 to $6 for a dozen eggs (retail).
Organic Labeling and Fees
If you are selling less than $5,000 worth of organic product and following the organic regulations, you may label your products as organic without being certified.
If you want to be certified organic, you can fill out the application, pay the certification fee, and be inspected. The fee is based on gross sales. For 2010 it is $300 for $1,000 to $2,500 gross sales and $350 for $2,500 to $5,000. The USDA price support program reimburses the farmer for 75 percent of the certification fee, making the above fees $75 and $87.50, respectively.
The Organic Certification Practice Manual from MOFGA Certification Services, LLC, is available at http://www.mofgacertification.org. The USDA National Organic Standards are posted at www.ams.usda.gov/nop/.
For specific questions or additional information about regulations, contact: Quality Assurance & Regulations, Dana Finnemore, Maine Department of Agriculture, State House Station 28, Augusta, ME 04333-0028; (207) 287-6319; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The State of Maine Food Code is a manual that lists all regulations related to food. You can request a free copy of the manual from the Maine Department of Agriculture or obtain it at https://www1.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/el/site-files/rules/Food%20Code%20October%202013..pdf
Diane Schivera is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can contact her with your questions at 568-4142 or email@example.com.