The Journey of the Egg
From Chicken to Carton
The journey of the egg starts with one laying hen; a lohman breed. Hatched in Idaho, USA, the hen travels to Fort Vermilion, Alberta to grow up. When the hen is ready to begin laying eggs, she makes the three hour road trip to the barn in Hay River.
After the hen lays an egg, it finds its way onto a conveyor belt that takes the egg to a sorting machine. Once it is sorted by one of the barn workers, producer Michael Wallington loads up the eggs and travels 10 kilometers from the barn to the grading station. The grading station is a Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulated facility where the eggs are washed, dried, candled, weighed, packaged and shipped to the market. There are a whole set of rules regarding table eggs that must be followed in order for the facility to sell eggs into grocery stores, restaurants and institutions. The CFIA comes to the grading station at least once a year to do an inspection and report to make sure we are following the rules.
Michael unloads the eggs into a large cooler that can hold up to 50 pallets of eggs. The eggs are stored at a cool temperature until it is time to grade them.
When it is time for the eggs to go into the grading machine, Travis brings a pallet of eggs into the grading room. There are 14,400 eggs on each pallet and the eggs are packaged on blue plastic trays in stacks of 180 eggs.
First station is the loading station where a team member carefully unwraps the pallet and loads every egg on to the machine, she is the first check on the system, catching and keeping an eye on the eggs before they even get cleaned. We want to make sure at every stage of the process that our eggs are safe and perfect for our customers.
After the eggs are clean and dry, they pass into the candling booth. The candling booth has bright lights underneath the conveyor that shine through the egg and allow us to see if there are any cracked shells, blood or meat spots in the eggs. We remove any egg that is misshapen, dirty or deficient as well. This is a very important part of making sure they you get the best eggs in your carton. Those eggs that don't make the grade are sent down south to be used for industrial purposes, so nothing goes to waste.
The eggs continue on the conveyor belt and are loaded onto a machine that weighs the eggs. The egg is sent to a new conveyor belt that sorts all the eggs according to their weight. There are spaces for jumbo eggs, extra large, large, medium, small and pee wee. Only the large eggs are packaged to go to the market and all the other egg sizes are packaged back on blue trays to go to the southern processing facilities.
The eggs all line up in the collection table and are packaged with a hand-help packing tool that works the same way as the loading tool. The packing tool may be in a 12 egg, 18 egg or 30 egg configuration, depending on what is required for the orders that day. The packing team puts the eggs in 12 or 18 egg cartons for the grocery stores, as well as 30 egg fibre trays for the restaurants, hospitals and institutions.
To make sure that the eggs are the best quality, our manager keeps an eye on the whole operation, checking eggs, machines and following up with each team member to make sure that the process works flawlessly. They also do spot checks on the eggs to make sure that the weight is right and that there are no cracks or deficiencies.
In all, it takes about 5 minutes from the time the egg is loaded onto the conveyor, to when it is packaged and ready to go into a carton or box.
After the eggs are placed in the appropriate carton or tray, the best before date is stamped on the carton before it is placed in the box that it will be shipped in. Once the boxes are sealed, they are placed in a special cooler for just eggs that have been graded. The graded cooler can hold up to 10 pallets of eggs. The eggs are stored in the graded cooler until they are sent to the grocery stores or restaurants.
The team loads the eggs into a small deliver vehicle and off to the market they go. The process works so well, that sometimes we can have eggs on the grocery store shelves the same day that the egg is laid at the chicken barn.
Once the eggs are ready to be sold, it is up to Kevin to meet with stores and restaurants all over the North and figure out when to get the eggs shipped and how to ship them. If anyone has orders or wants eggs, he is the guy to talk to.
Once the process is all done for the day, the whole team works together to make sure the facility and machines are clean and ready for the next production day.