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For the purposes of egg sales and licensing, egg producers are categorized in two ways:
small-scale producers and
Small-scale producers (150 birds or fewer)
Act 245 signed reduces the licensing burden on small-scale egg producers so they can sell eggs more easily in the marketplace. The act exempts small-scale egg producers who sell eggs directly from the farm to consumers — at farmers markets and on egg sales routes — from having to acquire a food processing plant license for egg collection, cleaning, and packing activities.
Even though the new law allows small-scale producers to package eggs without a food processing plant license and sell them at their farm, they
still are required to have a transient retail food establishment license to sell their eggs at farmers markets and on egg sales routes. Contact DATCP's licensing consultants to obtain a
transient retail license application.
In addition, producers must still meet some basic food safety requirements:
- Eggs must be sold directly to the consumer, not to a wholesaler or distributor.
- Eggs must be packaged in a carton that is labeled with the producer's name and address, the date the eggs were packed into the carton, a sell-by date within 30 days, and a statement indicating that the eggs in the package are ungraded and uninspected.
- Packaged eggs must be kept at an ambient temperature no higher than 41°F at all times.
- Registration is required for egg producers who are exempt from food processing requirements because they collect, package, and store nest−run eggs from a flock of laying birds owned by the producer. There is no charge for registering. Registration is a useful tool to the department in the event of an animal disease outbreak that requires food safety personnel to contact egg producers. Use the Nest-Run Egg Producer and Seller Registration form to complete the registration process.
Large-scale producers (more than 150 birds)
Anyone owning more than 150 birds that produce eggs is considered a large-scale producer. As a result, a food processing plant license generally must be obtained to lawfully package and sell their eggs in Wisconsin. The only exception, under new regulations, is the sale of nest-run eggs (those that are not washed, graded, or candled) from any size flock to an egg handler who holds a food processing plant license. In addition, the eggs must be fully labeled per the regulations outlined in the Egg Labeling section below. The eggs must also be stored at 41 degrees F during storage and transportation from one place to another.
Egg Collection & Washing
In most commercial operations, eggs drop automatically from the hens’ cages to a conveyor belt below where they are taken to a machine for washing. To clean and sanitize the eggs, a machine washes them in water heated to more than 90°F with a special cleaning solution. Once the eggs are washed, they are rotated as they pass by to look for dirt spots. If an egg is detected with dirt spots, the egg is routed back to the washer. In some cases, oil is used to protect shell eggs and is applied in a manner that prevents egg contamination and preserves egg quality.
The contents of the egg are examined without cracking the shell. The condition of the shell, albumen and yolk are all checked. Inferior eggs are removed.
In modern operations, to detect shell cracks, eggs are checked sonically. In a matter of seconds, tiny probes tap each egg 16 times and ‘listen’ for the sound it makes. A fully intact egg has a high pitch and a sustained ring. A thud indicates a crack and the egg won’t be packed.
Once washed and determined whole, the eggs are packaged and shipped. Each package must be determined to be clean and in good condition, mold free and without offensive odors, and sufficiently strong and durable to protect eggs from damage during normal distribution.
Throughout the collection and washing process, eggs must be kept at an average ambient temperature of 60° F or below, but must be brought to 45°F or colder within 36 hours after collection. After being processed and packaged they must be kept at an average ambient temperature of 45°F or colder at all times, including while they are being transported. At no time should the eggs be frozen.
Egg Quality Grade
The interior and exterior quality of an egg, referred to as the grade (AA, A, B), is determined by a process called candling. The candling light allows the user to grade the interior quality of the egg.
The following combination of factors is used to determine the grade of an egg:
- Distinctness of the yolk shadow outline. The shadow of the yolk outline cast on the shell, when the egg is twirled in the candling process is one of the best indicators of interior quality. As the egg ages the whites lose carbon dioxide and moisture causing them to become thinner, allowing the yolk to spin more freely in the egg. This creates a more clearly defined shadow of the yolk, when the egg is candled.
- Air cell. The size of the air cell is another factor used to determine the grade of the egg. When an egg is first laid, it has a very small air cell or none at all. As the internal temperature of the egg drops, the liquids contract more than the shell. As a result of this contraction, the inner membrane separates from the outer to form an air space. As the egg ages this air cell becomes bigger due to the escape of gas and evaporation of water from the egg.
Higher grade eggs have a very shallow air cell. In AA quality eggs, the air cell may not exceed 1/8 inch in depth. Eggs of A quality may have air cells over 3/16 inch in depth. There is no limit on air cell size in Grade B.
- Blood and meat spots can also be detected by the candling light. The presence of large spots will downgrade an egg.
- Surface cracks on the shell are also easier to detect when candling.
In the grading process, eggs are examined for both interior and exterior quality and are sorted according to weight (size). Grade quality and size are not related to one another. The weight standards are as follows:
- A dozen Jumbo eggs should weigh approximately 30 oz. or more
- A dozen Extra Large eggs should weigh approximately 27 oz. or more
- A dozen Large eggs should weigh approximately 24 oz. or more
- A dozen Medium eggs should weigh approximately 21 oz. or more
Retail egg packaging must contain all of the following components to meet requirements as stated in Wisconsin regulations ATCP 88 and 90. Cartons must contain:
- a declaration of product identity
- a declaration of responsibility in the form of a packer identification number or shell egg handler registration number identifying the state of origin as follows: WI##.
- a declaration of net quantity
- nutrition labeling
- grade and size of the eggs in letters not less than 3/16 inch high.
- a “keep refrigerated” or an equivalent statement
- the date the eggs were packed
- an expiration date or “sell by” date not more than 30 days from the packing date OR a “use by” date
- a safe handling statement, such as “To prevent illness from bacteria: Keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.”
Shipping packaging must contain the same information on one end with all of the information in letters not smaller than ½ inch tall.
Exceptions to Egg Grading & Labeling Requirements
There are only two circumstances in which egg grading and labeling are not required by regulations; eggs being shipped from the producer to a packer are exempt as are eggs that a producer sells directly to household consumers on the premises where the eggs are produced. Small producers, i.e. those selling eggs directly to consumers from their premises, that may not have a packer identification number or shell egg handler registration number can use their complete name and address. Also, small producers are exempt from nutritional labeling requirements.