How to Buy the Best & Healthiest Chicken at the Grocery Store and What the Labels Mean
Every year in the United States alone over 8 billion chickens are consumed. That’s a lot of chicken! When chicken is processed, it is packaged with labels to indicate how the chicken was raised. Why do we care about how the chickens are raised? We care because it’s important to our health and the health of our families.
The healthier the chicken was raised, the healthier that chicken will be for you & your family.
Lean protein is a part of every healthy diet, and chicken is one of the best sources of lean protein that you’ll find anywhere. Since we do love our chicken, we must make sure that we purchase fresh and healthy chicken every time.
But how do we know what to look for to make sure we are buying the safest chicken for our family?
Knowing what you should look for and what those labels mean isn’t always easy when you’re doing your grocery shopping though. Next time you toss that package of fresh chicken into your grocery cart, stop and read the labels carefully.
Use this guide to help you pick out the right chicken for yourself and your family.
What do those Labels Mean?
– All Natural Chicken
Natural is a confusing label for chicken packages to bear, but in the simplest terms, chicken labeled as ‘natural’ means that it is minimally processed. No dyes, coloring agents, flavoring agents have been used.
Chicken labeled as ‘natural’ also contains information that gives you that meat processor’s particular definition of ‘natural’ because there are legally allowed variations.
- A ‘natural’ label does not mean the chicken is organic, fresh or raised antibiotic free. It simply means the chicken was not altered before it was packaged in any significant way.
Chicken labeled as ‘organic’ is pretty popular today because people are wary of poultry pumped full of antibiotics. To qualify as organic, poultry must contain 95% natural ingredients, excluding salt and water, which are always considered natural by the USDA.
Products labeled as ‘100% organic’ don’t contain even that 5% exception. 100% organic chicken is raw, unprocessed and the best overall option for quality poultry in the United States.
– Free Range or Free Range Chicken
‘Free range’ or ‘free roaming’ are terms you see on a lot of chicken products. It might sound pleasant, like the chickens lived in a verdant pasture, but that isn’t always the case.
All the label means is that the chickens had access to an outdoor environment for grazing. If you’re concerned and want to buy full free range chicken where animals spend their lives mostly outside you’ll have to do some brand research.
Brands that sell this type of chicken almost always make it easy for consumers to find out about their practices. This a major selling point for many people with health or ethical concerns about chickens raised indoors.
– No Antibiotics or Antibiotic Free
The terms ‘no antibiotics,’ ‘antibiotic free’ and ‘no antibiotics added’ are becoming more common on poultry as people become more concerned with healthy food. To earn the right to use this label, manufacturers of chicken and chicken products must show sufficient documentation to the USDA to prove they don’t use antibiotics when raising animals.
- Chicken that isn’t labeled this way should be assumed to contain antibiotics.
– Hormone Free
Hormones are not allowed to be used in the production of chicken according to the USDA, so a label of ‘hormone free’ should accompany another that says ‘federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.’ Just keep your eyes open and know that ‘hormone free isn’t a selling point since all chicken in the US is hormone free by law.
– Fresh Poultry
The words ‘fresh poultry’ are commonly seen on packages of chicken, but for many people the term is a bit confusing. Chicken labeled as ‘fresh chicken’ has never been refrigerated below 26-degrees Fahrenheit, meaning it has never been frozen.
When you buy this type of chicken you know you’re getting a product that hasn’t been stored in the freezer for months. This usually means better tasting chicken that’s easier to handle and cook at home, without the potential contamination risks that come with defrosting.
- Always keep chicken labeled as ‘fresh poultry’ refrigerated and eat it within a few days of purchase.
Where to Buy the Best Chicken
Every grocery store in the world sells chicken, but the fact is that not every piece of chicken is equal. That’s why you need to be discerning about where you shop.
Butcher shops that specialize in meat are ideal choice because the butcher will be able to tell you everything about the product. You’ll also usually end up with fresher meat and the ability to get any cut you want, from bone-in breasts to skinless thighs and legs.
- If you buy your chicken from the grocery store it’s best to look for a product that is labeled organic, natural and fresh. That means you’re getting additive-free chicken that’s healthy and hasn’t been sitting in a freezer for months.
Healthy chains like Whole Foods tend to offer high-quality, healthy chicken, but high prices often accompany these offerings. More and more grocery store chains are making healthier chicken options available to shoppers each day though.