BASIC CHICKEN FACTS

Standard

As with pork and beef, the labels on packages of chicken have become very detailed in the last 10 years. Here are some basic terms to help you out on your next visit to the store or butcher.

Organic: The USDA has set specific standards that are required in order for a food to use organic labeling.

To be labeled as “100″ organic” the food must contain only organically produced ingredients and processing aids, excluding water and salt.

Items labeled as “organic” must be at least 95% organically produced ingredients, again excluding water and salt.

Finally those food products which have the “made with organic ingredients” are processed products that were made with at least 70% organic ingredients.

Free Range: This term refers to allowing the animal to wander at will rather than being fenced in. Free range animals are for the most part, allowed to find their own food rather than the farmer providing it. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside. As long as the chicken has been allowed outside for a time, even if it is on pavement, they can be labeled as free range. Europe has much stricter guidelines in order to use the term on chicken sold there.

Yarding: In yarding the animals are kept within a fence. Too often animals that have been yarded are referred to as free range.

Cage Free; This is purely a marketing term and not one used by the USDA. A cage free chicken was not kept in a cage, that does not mean they were running out in a green pasture all day looking for bugs to eat.

Fresh: The internal temperature of the chicken carcass has not dropped below 24° F. Bear in mind 32 degrees is freezing so part of the chicken may still be frozen. Companies such as Foster Farms make a huge point of the fact that their chickens make it so fast to the store shelf they are labeled as fresh.

Natural: The natural chicken has been “minimally processed” such that the raw product has not been fundamentally altered. No artificial ingredients, preservatives, or colors have been added.

Kosher: Jewish dietary laws have strict requirements that must be proven in order to receive this label.

No antibiotics administered: This is a marketing gimmick unless it is accompanied by the USDA ORGANIC label.

No hormones: As the USDA prohibits hormones in all poultry, it does not matter if this is on the label or not.

Plumping: This terms refers to food processors injecting salt water, chicken stock or seaweed extract into their chicken in order to “add moisture”. It also adds weight to the chicken and increases the price of the meat. The amounts injected can range from 15% to 30% of the weight of the meat being purchased. This has been going on since the 1970’s in the USA. Chicken that has been plumped may still carry the 100% natural label as the packaging also states the meat has been injected. Consumers must look carefully for that statement as it is usually in very small print.

Whole Fryer Chicken: A fryer chicken is 7 to 13 weeks old and will weigh 1 1/2 to 4 pounds.

Split Chicken Breast:When a chicken is butchered the breast is left on the breast bone and the ribs are still attached. This is split down the middle, leaving the split breasts.

Chicken Tender: When the bone is removed from the breast, a small piece is left and referred to as the tender. The term is also used interchangeable with fillet, strip and fingers to describe a boneless piece of chicken.

Chicken Quarters: When the leg and thigh are left attached to each other.

Neck: The neck is often found in the cavity of a chicken along with the heart, liver and gizzard. Many people place them in the pan when roasting the chicken to add flavor to the drippings.

For optimal quality, however, a maximal storage time in the freezer of 12 months is recommended for uncooked whole chicken, 9 months for uncooked chicken parts, 3 to 4 months for uncooked chicken giblets, and 4 months for cooked chicken. Freezing doesn’t usually cause color changes in poultry, but the bones and the meat near them can become dark

Safety: Hands should be washed immediately after handling raw chicken for a full 20 seconds. None of this 5 second stuff I see on the Food Network all the time. Cross contamination happens easily and the best prevention is to use a clean cutting board and knife after it has touched raw poultry. I know our moms all did it, but we should not leave chicken out all night in order to thaw it.

Disinfectants can be sprayed onto surfaces to kill bacteria but needs to be left there for several minutes. Products purchased at the store will tell you on the back of the bottle how long to leave the spray in order to kill the bacteria. Some say up to 10 minutes!

Temperature: Chicken should always be cooked all the way through. Eating raw chicken puts you at risk of food born illnesses. Sometimes this means simple a simple stomach ache, but people do die from improperly handled food, young children are especially susceptible. All poultry should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or 74 degrees Celsius. A thermometer should be placed in the thickest part of the meat. If it is still on the bone caution must be made in order not to touch the bone with the thermometer as it will give an inaccurate reading.

Happy cooking!

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