Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions about Free Range Eggs

The question I am asked most often is “How do I know your hens are really free range”? The answer is very simple – because we are inspected once a year by the Free Range Farmers Association to ensure that we comply with their regulations. If the inspector found that we had de-beaked birds on the property, we had too many hens in our sheds or that our pasture cover wasn’t adequate for the numbers of hens we had, our accreditation would be withdrawn. Similarly if we didn’t have an audit trail which showed how many eggs we produced and how many were sold – we would have a few questions to answer!

Then we are asked “How fresh are the eggs”? Demand for our eggs is so great that they are basically laid to order. Our regular deliveries often have to wait a few minutes (or a couple of hours) while enough eggs are laid the fill the orders. It’s great for the customers but a bit of a nightmare for us waiting to get enough eggs to start the delivery run. The answer is that the eggs are always fresh – some are delivered very soon after being laid (still warm), some may be delivered a day or two later as the order is filled. None of our eggs hang around in the cool room more than a day or two.

Another favorite is “How often do you collect the eggs”? We collect eggs by hand at least three times a day – mid morning, around lunchtime and mid afternoon. When we are desperate to fill an order we will collect more frequently.

Sometimes people want to know “How do you package the eggs”? Once they are collected and delivered into the air-conditioned grading room, the eggs are inspected for any obvious cracks or dirt. We wash none of our eggs – we believe that washed eggs should be regarded as seconds and not retailed. If a farm has a significant number of dirty eggs, it has a management problem! Any eggs which require more than a light buffing with a dry abrasive pad are disgarded. All first quality eggs are then candled (passed over a light mechanism to illuminate the egg and show any hairline cracks, air bubbles or blood spots inside. Any eggs which fail this test are also disgarded. The eggs then continue through the grading process where they are graded according to weight, placed into egg cartons (or on trays for restaurants) and labelled accordingly. It is a requirement for new cartons to be used and for labelling to include details of the producer, a 'best before' or 'use by' date, a nutritian panel and the production method - free range, cage or barn.
If you see eggs for sale in second hand cartons don't buy them, and better still, report the seller to your local council health inspector because it's your health which is at risk. All egg producers who sell their eggs (even if only a couple of dozen a week) must have a food safety program in place and must comply with the same regulations as registered producers.

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