Chicken 101

December 10, 2010

It can be confusing shopping for chicken with all the different labeling terms - SupermarketGuru's here to help...

Chicken is a go to animal protein for many Americans; it is tasty and versatile and is employed by many cuisines as a staple ingredient. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the chicken is a descendant of the Southeast Asian red jungle fowl first domesticated in India around 2000 B.C. Most of the birds raised for meat in America today are from the Cornish, a British breed and the White Rock, a breed developed in New England.

Choosing the right chicken in the market can get confusing, SupermarketGuru has compiled the most popular and sometimes confusing terms often used on poultry labels allowed by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS):

Additives are not allowed in fresh chicken. If chicken is processed, however, additives such as MSG, salt, or sodium erythorbate may be added but must be listed on the label.

Basted or Self Basted 
Bone-in poultry products that are injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water plus spices, flavor enhancers, etc. must be labeled as basted or self basted. The maximum added weight of approximately 3 percent solution before processing is included in the net weight on the label. Label must include a statement identifying the total quantity and common or usual name of all ingredients in the solution, e.g., “Injected with approximately 3 percent of a solution of ___ (list of ingredients).”

Use of the terms “basted” or “self-basted” on boneless poultry products is limited to 8 percent of the weight of the raw poultry before processing. (You may be familiar with Foster Farms “Say No to Plumping” campaign, which targets this issue.)

Free Range/ Roaming
Producers must demonstrate that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

Fresh Poultry
The use of the word “fresh” on packages of raw poultry refers to the temperature that the meat has been stored. Individual packages of raw poultry products labeled "fresh" can vary as much as 1°F below 26 °F within inspected establishments, or 2 °F below 26 °F in commerce. This ensures they have not been frozen.

Halal and Zabiah Halal
Products prepared by federally inspected meat packing plants bearing these labels must be handled according to Islamic law and under Islamic authority.

May be used only on the labels of meat and poultry products prepared under Rabbinical supervision.

A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural. The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as - no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed.)

No Hormones 
Hormones are not allowed in raising poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

No Antibiotics
The terms “no antibiotics added” may be used on labels for poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics. Antibiotics may be given to prevent disease and increase feed efficiency. A “withdrawal” period is required from the time antibiotics are administered before the bird can be slaughtered. This ensures that no residues are present. The FSIS randomly samples poultry at slaughter and tests for antibiotic residues.

The diet of organic chickens is mainly what separates them from conventional. They are fed organic feed and grains grown without fungicides, herbicides, commercial fertilizers, pesticides and do not contain any animal or poultry by-products (but no regulations are in place for fish meal). No antibiotics are ever given and they are allowed access to the outdoors. The nutrient content is comparable, but organic chickens are often more expensive because of higher production costs.
For more information about the National Organic Program and the use of the term "organic" on labels, refer to these factsheets from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

Certified Humane
The farms meet specific criteria including- cage free, no antibiotics in feed, vegetarian feed, and allows the chickens a natural environment for behaviors like preening and scratching.

Humane certification is the only label term that refers to how the animals were treated and kept. Some retailers, including Whole Foods, SUPERVALU and Safeway have pledged to increase their standards for animal welfare when choosing suppliers. Currently Whole Foods and the Global Animal Partnership have created a five step animal welfare rating system available to consumers concerned with animal welfare. Customers can decide on broiler chickens for example: a score of 1 is the lowest but ensures “no cages, no crowding” while a score of 5+ ensures “animal centered: entire life on same farm.” Similar ratings are available for beef and sows. Speak to the butcher, or store manager of your local Supermarket for more information on animal welfare standards.

Safe cooking tips: 
For the safest cooking, bake chicken breasts with the bone in for at least 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes and boneless chicken breasts for at least 20 to 30 minutes. 
Grilling or broiling times are 6 to 8 minutes on each side for boneless breasts, 10 to 15 minutes on each side for bone-in chicken breasts.

Cooking specifics
The color of chicken flesh is not related to the safety of the cooked meat, according to the USDA, but the primary indicator of safety for all cooked poultry is an internal temperature of 165°F. (as measured by a food thermometer in the thickest part of the breast or, if cooking a whole bird, in the area between the thigh and the breast)

It all begins with proper food prep ... 
Refrigerate chicken immediately upon returning home from the supermarket. Refrigerator temperature should be 40°F and place raw meat in the coolest part of your refrigerator. You should cook the poultry within one or two days, or, store in the freezer for up to 1 year.
Be sure to wash you hands prior to food prep, and after, and wash the cutting surfaces thoroughly both before, and after, each use. It is also best to dedicate one cutting board for poultry, one for meat, and one for vegetables. If you prepare fresh fish, use a separate cutting board for that as well.

How to store cooked chicken
Cooked, cut-up chicken is at its best refrigerated for no longer than 2 days — whole cooked chicken, can be stored for about 3 days. If leftovers are to be reheated, cover to retain moisture and to ensure that chicken is heated all the way through.

Visit the USDA for more information on chicken and labeling.