Get To Know That Chicken

US - ‘Natural’ should be just that — nothing more.
calendar icon 16 May 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

Picking out a chicken at the supermarket is a guessing game, according to the professionals at Cook’s Illustrated. The terms fresh, organic, free-range, all natural and lean rarely indicate good flavor or texture, or good price. Instead, they’re just confusing.

Here is what certain terms mean.

Free-range: Chicken may be labeled “free-range” if the animals had access to the outdoors. Generally, this does not mean the chickens had access to a large, grassy range. More likely they had access to a fenced area outside the chicken house. The size of the pen can vary. Fewer than 1 percent of chickens nationwide are raised as free-range.

Organic: Chickens labeled “USDA Organic” must be free-range, but not all free-range chicken is organic. Raising chickens organically is a production concept. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic production and prohibits the use of the term “organic” on packaging of any food product not produced in accordance with its rule.

The rule prohibits the use of antibiotics in animal production and requires the use of feed made from organic ingredients, so no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used on the corn and soybeans in the poultry feed, among many other requirements. According to the USDA, the organic food label does not indicate that the product’s safety, quality or nutritional attributes are better than conventionally produced product.

Retained water: A statement such as “May contain up to 6 percent retained water” or “Less than 4 percent retained water” is found on most packages of fresh poultry. This indicates the amount of water retained in the product as a result of essential food safety procedures, such as chilling processed chickens in ice-cold water to reduce their temperature and retard the growth of spoilage bacteria and other microorganisms.

Farm-raised: All chickens are raised on farms, so the label “farm-raised” can refer to any chicken. When this term is used on restaurant menus and the like, it usually refers to chickens raised on a local farm.

Natural: Under USDA regulations, a “natural” product has no added ingredients and is minimally processed, just enough to get it ready to be cooked. Most ready-to-cook chicken can be labeled “natural” if processors choose to do so.

Source: KansasCity

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