Supermarket Guide to Buying Chicken

What do packaging labels on poultry really mean for consumers?

As consumers demand ever more information about their chicken, producers and government regulators have responded with labels that are supposed to take the mystique out of your bird. Unfortunately, deciphering these labels can make even the most Zen among us feel like a chicken with its head cut off. Here is our guide to truth in poultry labeling.

Free Range

It’s nice to imagine that the chicken on our plate led a life of bucolic splendor. “Free range” certainly implies such an existence—but this USDA-regulated term means only that the birds are granted access to the outdoors. “Generally, this does not mean that the chickens have a large, grassy ‘range,’ but that they are given access to a fenced area outside the chicken house,” explains Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council.

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