Eggs by the kilo

There has been some media excitement over a suggestion that eggs could be sold by weight. MetricViews asked its cookery correspondent for a quick comment, and this is what she said:

“I suspect that all that may change is the lettering on the box; there will still be 6 and 12 eggs (or 9/10/18 etc) with a minimum weight declared on the front.

In my thirty-five year career as a food and cookery writer, I recall going through three changes of egg sizing.

First, we had large, medium and small, bantams, etc.

Then we went to sizes – remember those?  1-2 were large, 3-4 medium and 5-6 small.  That wasn’t satisfactory either and then some ten years or so ago, lo and behold, we went back to large, medium and small.

But egg sizes are based on weight.

I did a little weigh-in tonight on my digital scales, so pretty accurate.  As it happened (really!), I had a box of six medium eggs and six large eggs from a box left over from the weekend.

The 6 medium eggs weighed as follows: 3 x 64 g, 2 x 62 g and 1 x 66 g – a total weight of 382 g.

The 6 large eggs were 2 x 64 g and 4 x 60 g – a total of 368 g.

In other words, the medium eggs weighed more, and if I were a shopper seeing the weight on the front of the box I would buy those in preference to the more expensive so-called large eggs.

Egg sizes also seem to vary according to the season, the summer tailing off I believe.

Interestingly enough, a dozen is from the French douzaine.  They also sell eggs in tens, called a dizaine, I think.

I also weighed a 500 g box of cherry tomatoes =  482 g, and a 250 g pack mushrooms = 256 g.”

For readers who are unfamiliar with this story, MetricViews recommends this summary from the BBC:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/10432128.stm

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15 Responses to Eggs by the kilo

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Glenis Willmott MEP told the BBC: "Labels showing both weight and number would be the best solution".

    I can see where some shops and producers may not think so. Changing the rules to require a mass label on each carton of eggs will result in consumers examining all of the cartons on the shelf and picking the ones with the largest mass if the pricing would still be based on number.

    If I find a carton of eggs with a mass of 400 g and it is the same price as a carton of eggs with a mass of 380 g, why wouldn't I take the 400 g carton and get more for the same price?

    On the other hand, would it be possible for producers to balance the cartons better so that all of the eggs in the carton all have a "standard mass" plus or minus 10 g? The number of eggs will be the same, but the masses would be balanced better.

    Obviously the reason the EU is making an issue of this is because there have been sufficient complaints from consumers that consumers aren't getting the amount they are paying for and the only way to assure fairness is to insist that eggs be weighed and the cartons marked.

    As for the 500 g and 250 g sizes, were they followed by the "e" mark? I believe that mark allows them to be over or under as long as the lot mass averages to 500 g and 250 g. Yet, 18 g under on the tomatoes doesn't seem right even with an average system.

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  2. Robin Paice says:

    I had missed the issue in the media until I saw the BBC article. Seems like the usual EU-bashing, with a sideswipe at metrication. Obviously there would be nothing to stop producers indicating the number of eggs in addition to their weight and price/kg.

    I don't see how anybody can object to a requirement to display the unit price (i.e. price per kilogram). The arguments about increased cost are self-serving nonsense by producers who don't want customers to be able to compare value for money. It simply brings eggs into line with the rules for most other goods - e.g. tomatoes. In fact I would like to see the change extended to other goods - e.g punnets of strawberries, and the exemptions for "countable produce" abolished.

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  3. philh says:

    Futher to Jeremiah on 'e' marking.

    The requirement that the amount should be an average is only one of three rules that apply. A useful guide to this can be found here:

    http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/images/std02_tcm9-8361.pdf

    The rules are complicated but essentially they are designed to insure that instances of the product falling below the stated amount are an acceptably rare occurence and within defined margins (tolerable negative error). Cases where they are over the amount don't matter.

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  4. John says:

    http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/infopress_page/067-77187-180-06-27-911-20100629IPR77186-29-06-2010-2010-false/default_sv.htm

    "Selling eggs by the dozen will not be illegal under the terms of the amendments adopted by the European Parliament to EU food labelling proposals. Labels will still be able to indicate the number of food items in a pack, whether of eggs, bread rolls or fish fingers."

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  5. Martin Vlietstra says:

    As with many articles concerning the EU, the British press has turned a mis-representation of the truth into a story. The newspapers that had articles about the ban on selling eggs by the dozen were remarkably coy about which legislation they were writing about. The EU have issued a press release t in which they deny that there has been any intention of banning the sale of eggs by the dozen. The press release “No EU ban on selling eggs by the dozen or ‘unhealthy foods’” can be read at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/infopress_page/067-77187-180-06-27-911-20100629IPR77186-29-06-2010-2010-false/default_en.htm.

    For the record one can read the original press release titles “MEPs set out clearer and more consistent food labelling rule” dated 16 June 2010 at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/infopress_page/067-76128-165-06-25-911-20100615IPR76127-14-06-2010-2010-false/default_en.htm.

    The debate in questions was the first reading by the EU Parliament of a proposed directive that was prepared by the EU Commission. The draft can be found at:. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2008:0040:FIN:EN:PDF

    The exact text of what was discussed can be found at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2010-0222+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN.

    Article 9 of the draft lists the mandatory items that shall appear on the food label. The list given below has been edited for ease of presentation.:

    (a) the name of the food;
    (b) the list of ingredients;
    (c) any ingredient listed in Annex II causing allergies …
    (d) the quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients;
    (e) the net quantity of the food;
    (f) the date of minimum durability or the ‘use by’ date;
    (g) any special storage conditions or conditions of use;
    (h) the name or business name and address of the manufacturer …
    (i) the country of origin …
    (j) instructions for use …
    (k) alcoholic strength (if over 1.2%) the actual alcoholic strength by volume;
    (l) a nutrition declaration..

    It would seem that item (e) is the one which is causing the problems.

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  6. Jonathan Miles says:

    And now the rebuttal:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/europe/10461548.stm

    This contains a fairly carefully (and sensibly) worded statement that
    items that can easily be seen and counted can be sold by number (read
    between the lines - dozen eggs - yes, bowlfuls of peas - no).

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  7. M says:

    The key point is that food that is sold by number will also have to show the weight. This should put an end to the practice of some market traders who have been selling by quantity alone, or bowlfuls, without weighing items.

    It is a shame that the EU has to be the one to sort this out for us. Why aren't our national consumer bodies keeping up with events and lobbying government for clearer and more consistent Weights and Measures legislation?

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  8. Ezra Steinberg says:

    I presume egg producers will be allowed to add a supplementary indication of "weight" in ounces, but would it be a safe bet that they'll likely just put the weight in grams?

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  9. Ken Cooper says:

    As far as I can recall, eggs have always been graded by metric weight. Most Trading Standards Departments will have an old set of poises used for checking egg grading machines. Like the old imperial standards, they are now quietly gathering dust.

    Offhand, I cannot remember exact dates, but in 1985, when I first took an interest in the subject, the weight bands were as follows:

    Size 1: over 70g
    Size 2: 65 to 70g
    Size 3: 60 to 65g
    Size 4: 55 to 60g
    Size 5: 50 to 55g
    Size 6: 45 to 50g
    Size 7: under 45g

    Large (L): 63 to 73g
    Medium (M): 53 to 63g
    Small (S): under 53g

    A new size (Size 0) was added for extra large eggs (over 75g) at some point in the late 80's/early 90's.

    The whole system was then revamped in the mid-90's, resulting in the four weight bands currently in use:

    Very large (XL): over 73g
    Large (L): 63 to 73g
    Medium (M): 53 to 63g
    Small (S): under 53g

    As far as I am aware, there are no plans to change these current sizings, or to ban the marking of numbers of eggs in a box.

    Yet again, the Daily Mail is promoting a non-story based upon a half-truth. Unfortunately, they have an audience who consider a Mail journalist's uninformed speculation based upon a cursory reading of proposed legislation to be a gospel truth. Look forward to this becoming another "straight bananas" myth.

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  10. Han Maenen says:

    I am in Ireland at present and last week I read this nonsense in the 'Irish' Daily Mail. There was also and anti-metric and anti EU commentary in that paper. The change to kilometres in Ireland was deplored as well.

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  11. Jeremiah says:

    It would be interesting if Han can report on the effects of the metric sign change in Ireland 5 years now after it was implemented. I am curious to know how many cars on the roads now have full metric speed/odometer displays compared to old ones still with miles.

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  12. Mike P says:

    As much as I like to able to make an informed decision when spending money, I'm not sure how seeing the weight on the eggs would help me do that.

    I've yet to come across a baking recipe that asks me to add eggs in grams.

    Admittedly I would be annoyed if one egg was significantly smaller than it's eleven companions, however setting minimum weights for eggs within their class (ie small 45g, medium 55g, large 65g etc.) would let consumers know what they can expect and when there is cause for complaint.

    Putting weight on the pack doesn't help if you have 11 eggs overweight and a single hollow shell, however this would still be grounds to complain. Then you'll be asking for the weight printed on each egg and I don't know about you, but I like to be surprised by a double yolker every now and then. It's like winning the lottery at breakfast.

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  13. philh says:

    It does seem a logical step to mark egg packaging with the total weight since that is required for everything else where mass rather than volume is the most appropriate way to quantify it.

    If the packaging process has to weigh eggs to grade them then why not just do that rather than use an esoteric classification scheme?

    Recipies may not traditionally quote egg sizes in grams but authors tend to be informal on this point anyway (medium sized etc) even if they bother to indicate size at all.

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  14. Robin Paice says:

    Responding to Mike P, I think the point is that marking the weight will enable the unit price (i.e. price per kg) to be calculated (presumably "large shops" will have to give the unit price on a shelf label). This will reveal whether "medium" eggs are better value for money than "large" etc. Probably won't affect many purchasing decisions, as you may want a large boiled egg for your breakfast anyway. However, for consistency and in principle, I think it right that the information should be given.

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  15. Ken Cooper says:

    Just by chance, I came across an old Weights & Measures handbook today (1976 edition).

    It contained a copy of the Egg Grading Machines Regulations 1964 & went into some detail regarding the use of poises to test those machines.

    It also defines the weight bands for egg grading in 1964. Obviously, back then, the grades were set out in Imperial (From memory, Large eggs had to be over 2 and 5/8ths ounces)

    This proves quite conclusively that eggs have been sold by weight in the UK for at least 45 years.

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