“Free Range,” “Fresh Poultry” What Does It Actually Mean?

November 10, 2014

Ever wondered what some of the claims on your chicken package actually mean? Find out here - SupermarketGuru clears up the confusion surrounding confusing and common label claims on chicken.

Chicken is a go to animal protein for many of us; it’s tasty and versatile and is a staple ingredient in many cuisines. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 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, Self Basted or Enhanced
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
The USDA allows this label to be used if chickens have unlimited access to food, water and the outdoors, whether the chickens choose to go outside or not. In practice, most chickens stay close to water and feed, which is usually located within the chicken house.

Cage Free

Simply means that the chickens are able to roam an enclosed area such as a building or room with unlimited access to food and fresh water.

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 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 in the final product. The FSIS randomly samples poultry at slaughter and tests for antibiotic residues.

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.”

Visit the USDA and the National Chicken Council for more information on chicken and labeling.