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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.

 

Percent Retained Water

To control pathogens like Salmonella, producers must quickly lower the temperature of birds during processing. Most do this by immersing the slaughtered chickens in a cold bath, which causes them to absorb water. The USDA requires producers to list the maximum amount of water that may be retained. Some producers “air-chill” their birds, a process that does not result in any retained water. In a small January 2010 Consumer Reports study, birds labeled “air-chilled” (a term that is not regulated) were less likely to be contaminated with pathogens.

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