Cookout season has arrived. But did you know June is also Men’s Health Month? The purpose is to encourage men to seek early detection health screenings for various conditions and focus on prevention through exercise and diet. One way to support this mission is to choose lean proteins that are low in saturated fat. So let’s talk about chicken. We know it’s often a leaner choice than certain cuts of red meat, but knowing the lingo on the label can help you make an informed decision.
You may have noticed the label “Air Chilled” on a package of chicken, but what does it mean? Here’s the short answer: During processing, chickens need to be cooled quickly for food safety. In the U.S., this is most often done by soaking the chickens in chlorine-treated water baths, where the chickens end up absorbing some of the water. Through air chilling, the chickens are cooled rapidly by air, so there’s no chance of water absorption, which can dilute flavor. Many people claim that air chilled chickens taste better for this reason. Smart Chicken farms was one of the first in the U.S. to invest in air chill technology for improved taste and texture, which is why you’ll see “no added water” on their label.
Organic chickens are fed an organic diet free of pesticides. The label also means the chickens have access to the outdoors and are free from antibiotics. In order to maintain organic certification, chicken farms are inspected annually to make sure a strict set of USDA organic guidelines are followed.
Federal regulations prevent the use of hormones or steroids for all poultry—organic or not. So if you see hormone-free on a package of chicken, remember that all chicken is hormone-free.
If the label says “raised without antibiotics,” it means just that. For farms that use antibiotics, there are measures in place to prevent any traces of antibiotics in processed and packaged poultry. Other farms, using Smart Chicken as the example again, have antibiotics available in the rare case of sickness, but any chicken treated with antibiotics is not sold as Smart Chicken.
This is only a consideration for eggs, since chickens raised for meat are not raised in cages. Yet, you might still see this claim on the label.
It might sound like the chickens are frolicking through the fields, but free-range simply means the chickens have access to the outdoors.