Senate committee approves some egg sales beyond 30 days in stores

Senate committee approves some egg sales beyond 30 days in stores

eggs, Pena, Carroll, Arizona Farm and Ranch Group, Hickman, Senate
On a 4-3 vote, the Senate Commerce Committee agreed to allow eggs with an AA rating to remain on store shelves for 30 days. That is six days longer than now permitted. (Photo by Pexels)

If some state lawmakers get their way, those AA-labeled eggs you find at the store later this year — and pay a premium for — may not be as fresh and tasty as they are now.

On a 4-3 vote, the Senate Commerce Committee agreed to allow eggs with an AA rating to remain on store shelves for 30 days. That is six days longer than now permitted.

Rep. Michele Peña, R-Yuma, said Arizona is only one of two states with such a short limit. She told lawmakers that other states allow AA eggs on shelves for 30 days. And some have no statutory pull-by date.

Senate, eggs, grocery stores
Rep. Michele Peña, D-Yuma

All that is true. And there’s no evidence eggs older than 24 days are unsafe.

In fact, Arizona allows A-graded eggs to remain available for sale for up to 45 days after being candled, something that occurs shortly after they are laid and collected.

But what also is true, according to Roland Mader of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, is that egg quality starts to deteriorate after 24 days.

“The egg white gets more liquid, more watery,” he explained.

“The cell membrane of the yolk, they lose the integrity,” Mader continued. And that, he said becomes most visible, when you break the egg into a pan and the yolk, rather than standing up, “is very flat.”

What HB 2750 would mean, Mader said, is that someone who would buy a carton of AA eggs after 24 days would be getting what the state now considers a grade-A egg — something less than he or she paid for.

He said it’s no different than, say, the grades of beef that are available.

“If a customer purchases prime rib-eye steak, the customer expects and should be getting prime rib-eye steaks, not a lower grade,” Mader said. What they should not be getting if they pay a premium price, he said are a lower grade of meat that also are offered by retail grocers like choice and select beef; even lower grades like standard, commercial, utility, cutter and canner generally are used in processed meat products.

Peña, however, argued there are good reasons to extend the sell-by dates of Grade AA eggs.

She reminded lawmakers of the recent shortage of eggs. But with that being a national issue, even in states with more liberal rules about how long eggs can be sold, Peña conceded she cannot link any of that to Arizona’s 24-day rule.

“It was more of a capitalist mind-set that instigated all of that,” agreed Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, D-Tuba City of the egg shortage.

What actually appears to be behind the measure are the desires of the Arizona Retailers Association, representing the stores that sell the eggs. But in a prepared statement for the committee, Michelle Ahlmer, the group’s executive director, said the change is designed to help shoppers by keeping eggs available for sale for an extra six days.

“Consumers need all the help that can be provided,” she said.

There also is the claim that the 24-day limit results in $3 million worth of expired eggs being thrown out every year, as it can be difficult to repackage AA eggs for sale at a lower grade.

“That simply doesn’t happen,” countered Glenn Hickman, president of the family-owned egg ranch that bears his name. As the state’s largest egg producer, he testified he would know if retailers were dumping $60,000 worth of eggs a week.

Hickman does not dispute that some stores may find themselves with AA eggs past 24 days they cannot sell. But he said the blame likely lies with poor management, saying his trucks deliver eggs to the average store three times a week and it is up to store staff to ensure that the stock is rotated.

And Patrick Bray, lobbyist for the Arizona Farm and Ranch Group, questioned the accuracy of that $3 million claim.

He noted Ahlmer has been quoting that same figure since 2018. That’s when she used it to convince lawmakers to allow those eggs initially graded A — usually because they have a larger air pocket, which shows lower quality — to be sold up to 45 days after being laid, nearly twice as long as previously permitted.

Hatathlie, in supporting the change, said she doesn’t understand why there even are mandatory sell-by dates on eggs.

“I know that organic eggs, when harvested and cared for, will last even up to a year,” she said. And Hatathlie said if it were up to her, HB 2750 would extend the ability to sell AA eggs not just to 30 days but to 45.

But that still leaves the issue of quality. And that was enough to convince Sen. Frank Carroll to vote against the change.

The Sun City West Republican recalled moving here 30 years ago from Illinois, which does not have Arizona’s 24-day limit on the sale of AA eggs.

“I know how — I’ve got to be polite here — I preferred the flavor of the eggs when I encountered Arizona,” he told colleagues.

“I could tell, night and day,” Carroll continued. And he said it appears there’s a correlation between how old the eggs are and that taste.

Hickman said he provides lower quality grade A eggs, with their 45-day sale period, to any merchant who wants them. In fact, that’s the only way jumbo eggs are sold in Arizona.

Wednesday’s vote sends the measure, which already has cleared the House, to the full Senate.