Egg Products Inspection - Regulatory Requirements & Best Practices

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: July 11, 2009
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Eggs and egg products are an important source of the nation's total supply of food.  They are used in food in various forms. They are consumed throughout the nation.  A major portion thereof moves in interstate or foreign commerce. It is essential, in public interest, that the health and welfare of consumers be protected by the adoption of measures which assure that the eggs and egg products distributed to them and used in products consumed by them are wholesome, otherwise not adulterated, and properly labeled and packaged. Lack of effective regulation for the handling or disposal of unwholesome, otherwise adulterated, or improperly labeled or packaged egg products and certain qualities of eggs is injurious to public welfare and destroys markets for wholesome, not adulterated, and properly labeled and packaged eggs and egg prod-ucts and results in sundry losses to producers and processors, as well as injury to consumers.

Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA)
Passed by the U.S Congress in December, 1970, the Egg Products Inspection Act is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and imposes specific inspection requirements for two categories of eggs, namely, egg products and shell eggs.

  • The Act gives enforcement authority to the USDA and to the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Federal agriculture officials or state officials acting on behalf of USDA visit egg packers and hatcheries at least every three months to see that they are in compliance with the law.
  • Firms which transport, ship or receive shell eggs and egg products may also be checked periodically.
  • Under the Egg Products Inspection Act, plants that break, dry and process shell eggs into liquid, frozen or dried egg products must operate under the continuous inspection program of the USDA.
  • An official inspector must be present at all times when eggs are being processed.
  • The law applies to all egg-breaking plants, regardless of size, and to those selling products locally, across state lines and in foreign commerce.

Enforcement Authority

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that domestic and imported meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled. Foreign countries that export meat, poultry, and egg products to the United States are required to establish and maintain inspection systems that are equivalent to those of the United States. FSIS audits foreign inspection systems and re-inspects meat and poultry at the port-of-entry to ensure that foreign countries have main-tained equivalent inspection systems. FSIS makes two types of equivalence determinations:


  • Determinations of initial equivalence (termed "eligibility") for countries that are not yet trading partners, and
  • Determinations of whether equivalence is being maintained by countries that are currently eligible.

Categories of Eggs Subject to EPIA regulations

Egg Products
  • Processed and convenience forms of eggs for commercial, food-service and home use.
  • These are refrigerated liquid, frozen, dried and specialty products.
  • Many egg products are comparable in flavor, nutritional value and most functional properties to shell eggs.
  • Convenience foods such as cake and pudding mixes, pasta, ice cream, mayonnaise, candies and bakery goods utilize egg products.
  • Egg products are frequently preferred to shell eggs by commercial bakers, food manufacturers and the foodservice industry because they have many advantages including convenience, labor savings, minimal storage requirements, ease of portion control, and product quality, stability and uniformity.
Shelled Eggs
  • To pass grading requirements, all eggs must be clean, but a certain amount of staining is permitted in the lower grade. All eggs must have sound shells. Those with cracks or markedly unsound shells are classified as restricted eggs.
  • Restricted eggs are under-grade eggs, specifically checks, dirties, incubator rejects, inedibles, leakers and loss eggs.
  • Checks have a broken shell or a crack in the shell, but shell membranes are intact so that the egg contents do not leak.
  • Dirties may have adhering dirt, prominent or conspicuous stains, or moderate stains covering more than 1/4 of the shell surface.
  • Incubator rejects have been subjected to the incubation process for a period of time.
  • Inedibles are moldy, musty, sour, or exhibit rot, blood rings, green whites, stuck yolks or embryo chicks.
  • Leakers have a crack or break in both shell and shell membranes so that the contents are leaking.
  • Loss eggs are leakers, inedibles and any egg that has been cooked, frozen or contaminated.

Classification determined by interior and exterior quality and designated by letters-AA, A and B. In many egg packing plants, the USDA provides a grading service for shell eggs. Its official grade shield certifies that the eggs have been graded under federal supervision according to USDA standards and regulations. The grading service is not mandatory. Other eggs are packed under state regulations which must meet or exceed federal standards.

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. In descending order of quality, the grades are AA, A and B.

  • The first step in egg grading is inspection of the shell for cleanliness, soundness, apparent texture, strength and shape. Shell color is not a factor in judging quality.
  • To pass grading requirements, all eggs must be clean, but a certain amount of staining is permitted in the lower grade.
  • All eggs must have sound shells.
  • Those with cracks or markedly unsound shells are classified as restricted eggs.
  • The ideal shell shape is oval with one end larger than the other.
  • Abnormal shells, permitted under B quality, may be decidedly mis-shapen or faulty in texture with ridges, thin spots or rough areas.
  • Inspection of the interior is the next step in grading.
  • This is accomplished by candling or by the breakout method using the Haugh Unit system to evaluate the air cell, the albumen and the yolk.
  • 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.
  • Albumen is judged on the basis of clarity and firmness or thickness.
  • Clear albumen is defined as being free from discolorations or from any floating foreign bodies.
  • Factors determining yolk quality are distinctness of outline, size and shape and absence of such defects as blemishes or mottling, germ development or blood spots.
  • When eggs are twirled before the candling light, the yolk swings to-ward the shell.
  • The distinctness of the yolk outline depends on how close to the shell the yolk moves, which is, in turn, influenced by the thickness of the surrounding albumen.
  • Thick albumen permits limited yolk movement while thin albumen permits greater movement.

The Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA) controls the distribution of such eggs to prevent their getting into consumer channels. Checks and dirties are allowed to move to official USDA egg products plants where they can be properly handled and processed. They cannot be sold in the shell to restaurants, bakeries, food manufacturers or consumers unless such sales are specifically exempted by section 15 of the Act and not prohibited by state law. All other restricted eggs must be disposed of according to approved procedures.


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