WHAT DOES IT MEAN?: HOW TO READ CHICKEN LABELS (31) CHEAT SHEET
You see all the buzz words on chicken labels – “No GMO”, “No antibiotics” etc. What does it mean? Let’s learn how to read chicken labels by this cheat sheet!
HOW TO READ CHICKEN LABELS
There are so many chicken labels (label terms) that we aren’t sure what they mean. It’s like egg labels. Now you’ll see the whole list of them.
Always buy air-chilled chicken for a better taste. Air-chilling refers to a specific method for cooling chickens during processing. Chicken (after de-feathered) was cooled by hanging in the open cold air to prevent bacteria growth, not by being submerged in cold water.
The water-chilling process causes to add water weight, which dilutes the flavor of the meat.
“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, and other approved substances) must be labeled as “basted” or “self basted”.
The maximum added weight of approximately 3% solution before processing is included in the net weight on the label. The label must include a statement identifying the total quantity and common or usual name of all ingredients in the solution. Use of the terms on boneless poultry products is limited to 8% of the weight of the raw poultry before processing.
The term is NOT allowed to be used on a label.
“Contains broth”, “Added water” or “Self-basted”
It means that the chicken was injected with a flavor- or moisture-enhancing solution of salted water.
The FDA requires the amount of solution (as a weight % of the bird) and the ingredients to be labeled. The amount can be anywhere from 3% to 10%+. Solutions generally contain as much as 300mg of sodium per 4 oz serving, so check ingredient lists and sodium levels.
Though often less expensive, these chickens tend to have a spongy, mushy texture and artificial taste.
“Enhanced” or “Seasoned“
This means that chicken contains additional ingredients, like water or marinade. Any time chicken is enhanced, it must clearly be labeled on the package, including the ingredients that were used.
It only means that the chicken was raised on a farm, as all chickens are. This is mostly a marketing lingo and often used at restaurants to denote locally raised chickens.
“Free range” or “Cage free”
99% of chickens are mass production ones: they are fed an unhealthy diet and raised with cruelty. According to the National Chicken Council, less than 1% of chickens raised nationwide are free range.
This term “Free range” is given to chickens that have access to the outdoors for at least part of the day. This doesn’t guarantee that the chickens actually go outside – they simply have the option to go outdoors.
Chicken labeled as “organic” must also be “free-range”. However, not all “free-range” chicken is “organic.”
So it’s really hard to find the true “free-range” chickens unless you go through special shops or buy directly from the farms. The exercise and omnivorous diet will make for healthier chickens and eggs.
“Fresh” or “Fresh Poultry”
The term “Fresh” means it’s never been frozen. Fresh poultry should always bear a “keep refrigerated” statement.
In 1997, FSIS began enforcing a final rule prohibiting the use of the term “fresh” on the labeling of raw poultry products whose internal temperature has ever been below 26 °F.
The temperature of 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.
Freezing and thawing can change the texture. Fresh chicken tastes better than the frozen one. Most store chicken is frozen during transportation, then thawed before it hits the shelves.
Temperature of raw, frozen poultry is 0 °F or below.
Unlike cows and other ruminant animals (cattle, bison, elk, moose, sheep, goats, and deer) that eat only plants, chickens are omnivores. Chickens eat insects, plants, and fruits, not grass. So, you won’t find grass-fed chickens.
Corn-fed meat is much higher in Omega 6. Grass-fed meat is much higher in Omega 3 and other nutrients. Grass-fed is typically leaner and contains more beta carotene than grain-fed meat.
“Hormone-free” or “Raised without hormones”
NO chicken (or pigs) for food in the US is allowed to use hormones, so the label is completely unnecessary. Every chicken you see at the stores is basically hormone-free.
Any brand of chicken that includes this term on the label must note that no hormones are used in the production of any poultry. Don’t be fooled by the chicken manufactures.
“Kosher” or “Halal”
Choose a Kosher or Halal chicken despite your religious belief. They are farmed and prepared humanely and responsibly in accordance with Jewish and Islamic culinary laws. However, remember the terms doesn’t necessarily mean superior quality.
“Mechanically separated poultry”
It’s a paste-like poultry product produced by forcing bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.
It has been used in poultry products since 1969. In 1995, a final rule said it would be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as “mechanically separated chicken or mechanically separated turkey” (depending on the kind of poultry used) in the ingredients statement. The final rule became effective on November 4, 1996.
Natural means anything: it actually has nothing to do with how the chicken is raised. It simply means the chicken contains no artificial ingredients, like coloring agents and preservatives. Don’t be fooled by the marketing lingo and pay extra for it.
The chicken might be pumped up with a broth made from the bones of that animal. But it could also mean that sugar is added, or “natural flavoring,” whatever that might mean.
“No Antibiotics”, “Antibiotic-free” or “Raised without antibiotics”
Unlike hormones, antibiotics are used on farm animals – for health maintenance, disease prevention, and disease treatment. “No antibiotics added” means this chicken was raised without antibiotics and the producer can provide the proper documentation.
Know that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best quality or most-humanely raised chicken.
“Certified organic” = no growth hormones or antibiotics, synthetic pesticides, sewage, genetic engineering with sustainability and conservation. All organic chicken must be free-range.
The term “organic” is regulated by the USDA. The fee for the certification process makes organic meats are often more expensive. Some producers go above the organics standards, yet aren’t certified due to costs and other issues.
Even if you can’t always find grass-fed meat or free-range chickens, going organic is always a good idea. It is more expensive, but in this case, definitely worth it.
Product is fully cooked and ready to eat.
“Pasture-raised” or “Pastured”
While it’s not the most common label you’ll see in the meat department at your local grocery store.
The term “pasture-raised” doesn’t have any official definition nor require extra labeling by the USDA. This term only suggests that the chicken lived on a pasture with constant access to edible vegetation. In addition to regular feed, these birds also get a portion of their diet from their natural environment, such as grass, seeds, and bugs.
After all, it means nothing or little like “free range” and “cage free”.
“100% vegetarian diet”
Chickens are omnivores – they eat lots of insects. But most consumers find it icky to imagine farmers feeding chickens leftover meat scraps. To appease shoppers, most have now switched to a corn and soy diet.
This simply means that the chicken was raised on feed free from animal byproducts.
Conclusion: Now you know what terms mean. Many of them are really meaningless - just marketing lingos. Be knowledgeable on your intake and be a wise shopper for your health!
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