EVANSVILLE, Ind., April 7 (UPI) -- To help meet the surge in demand for eggs, the Food and Drug Administration is temporarily allowing eggs that have been packaged for food service to be sold in grocery stores.
Normally, retail eggs must meet strict packaging and labeling standards, including nutritional information, to be sold directly to consumers. These rules do not apply to food service providers.
But with quarantines and social distancing forcing restaurants to close and families to eat at home, the demand from food service is all but gone. Meanwhile, demand for retail eggs is booming, and the egg industry is struggling to keep up.
"Additional shell eggs for consumers are available, but appropriately labeled retail packaging is not available for all such shell eggs," the FDA said in a statement released over the weekend.
"To meet the increased demand for shell eggs in light of the limited availability of retail packaging, we are providing temporary flexibility regarding certain packaging and labeling requirements for shell eggs so that industry can meet the increased consumer demand," the statement said.
Eggs bound for food service tend to come in larger cartons or flats. These flats now can be offered in grocery stores as long as they are sold "by the complete carton or flat."
In addition, stores must place a sign near the eggs that displays the name of the distributor and provides safe handling instructions.
The easing of labeling regulations will help alleviate some of the backlog, producers say. But it won't completely solve the problem. The majority of eggs bound for food service are cracked and sold as either liquid or dry eggs -- not sold in the shell.
"Normally, about 25 to 30 percent of all the eggs produced go to further production," said John Brunnquell, president and CEO of Egg Innovations, which describes itself as the nation's largest pasture-raised egg farm.
The rest go through a process called grading, where they are sorted, washed, selected for size and packaged, Brunnquell said. The machines used to do this are called graders.
Whole eggs that are bound for the food service go through the same grading process as retail eggs, but are placed into different packages.
"The egg industry has the grading capacity for about 70 percent of all the eggs produced," Brunnquell said. "With this massive shift from food service to grocery stores, the issue is we just don't have the capacity to grade them all. We're not calibrated right. We have the eggs. We're just short of graders."
Plants like Brunnquell's, which is based in Indiana, are running around the clock to meet the increased demand, he said.