As a farmer, my days are filled with the routine of raising the chicks, pullets and hens, and producing eggs. My eggs are shipped on pallets like you see in the photo to a grading station, where the eggs’ journey continues through the washing, grading, packaging and shipping to the retail.
What you may not know is that laying hens don’t just produce large and extra-large eggs. When a young hen first starts laying, she lays pee-wee, small and medium sized eggs. After the first month or so, she starts producing larger eggs; however, not all the eggs that the hen lays are going to be a Grade A large. What about those Grade B & C eggs, where the shells aren’t very good or the egg whites are watery? Not many people want to buy these smaller or less than perfect eggs, but as an industry we don’t want to see them wasted. Thus, the processed egg market was created.
In the grocery stores you will see many different types of eggs, mostly in the egg cartons. In the industry, we call them shell eggs. The vast majority of these eggs are the Canada Grade A large and extra-large eggs, but you will also see eggs sold in “milk cartons”. These are eggs that have gone through another process.
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to tour an Alberta egg processing company. It was incredible to see the complexity and speed of the equipment, as well as the absolute cleanliness of the plant, which is essential to maintaining Canada’s high food safety standards.
Processed eggs are shell eggs that are broken by special machines and then pasteurized, before being further processed or packaged in liquid, frozen, or dried form. Pasteurized eggs are usually a liquid egg product, which is exposed to very high temperatures to eliminate any bacteria that may be present.
Some of these eggs are sold in the very convenient “milk carton” packaging. Occasionally I buy them for camping, simply for the space-saving aspect.
Eggs are used in so many different ways by so many different companies. Through processing, preservatives, flavour or colour can be added, and the eggs are then used in the manufacturing of many foods such as mayonnaise, noodles, ice cream and baked goods. Here is a picture of the boxed liquid egg that many bakeries and food processing companies use. In some cases they use very large bulk totes or tanks to transport the egg products.
You’ll also find processed eggs used in your favorite breakfast sandwich at some fast-food chains, or you might use meringue powder to make royal icing for cake decorating. Processed eggs are also used to make non-food items, including pharmaceuticals, shampoo, pet foods and adhesives.
There is a really exciting new area in the egg processing industry – nutraceuticals! These occur naturally in some foodstuffs that have properties to help treat or prevent certain illnesses. Eggs are considered to be rich in nutraceuticals. For example, eggs are an important food source of choline, which is very important for the development of the brain. Sialic acid is shown to inhibit certain stomach infections. IGY, the immunoglobulin in egg yolk, is a reservoir for antibodies and is used in both medical and veterinarian fields.
Whether you have them plain or processed, they start as the humble egg. The journey starts on the farm, but can travel many roads!