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"Grade A" Means Your Egg Is White, Not Misshapen, and That It Hasn't Been Tested for Salmonella

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The Wall Street Journal highlights something today that recently had us wondering how no one ever noticed this before.

You know that "USDA Grade A" shield on egg cartons? Means the eggs inside have been checked for quality, right?

Yep. But not the kind of quality you're probably thinking of. Aesthetic quality. As in, all 12 of your eggs will be roughly the same size, shape, and color. Salmonella? Whatever. That's the FDA's problem. (Take a look at the near-incomprehensible tangle of buck-passing "standards" here.)

Here's the deal:

The Grade A mark means nothing more than the plant that packed your eggs had an official, USDA-sanctioned "grader" on hand who checked for uniformity of size and color, and made sure no eggs were cracked before being shipped.

Hang on, now--why does the USDA get to fob the actual work off on the FDA?

Because the USDA inspects meat for safety. Egg safety, well, as noted, that's someone else's problem.


As we learned after the BP spill in the Gulf that the MMS had dual mandates--one to regulate operations and one to handle marketing--people are now coming to realize that the USDA operates in much the same way. The USDA mark on eggs is handled by the agency's marketing arm, which promotes American food. The stamp is not mandatory, and some producers choose not to shoulder the cost (yes, the companies must pay for government grading out of their own coffers) of an extra $22.70 per hour quasi-employee, though the Grade A mark does generally help command a higher price at retail.

So, there you go--while someone's getting paid to ensure a brown egg doesn't accidentally slip into a carton of white ones and that your food will look uniform, the salmonella kept slipping by.

According to the Journal's report, the FDA has announced that it will soon fan out to begin inspecting eggs for safety now that new laws have given them more authority.

Oh, and maybe also because someone in the PR department told them that, well, perhaps it might not be such a bad idea.
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