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Chicken Buyer's Guide

How to buy the healthiest chicken at the grocery store.
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What Labels Mean continued...

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.

Certified Humane Raised & Handled: Overseen by a nonprofit endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, this label ensures your chicken received basic standards of care. For instance, CHRH producers must provide at least six continuous hours of darkness per 24-hour period (many birds live in round-the-clock light to hasten growth). Feed must be fresh. Original guidelines required producers to provide about 1 square foot of space per chicken; however, this is currently under review. This third-party certification does not have any rules about access to pasture.

Kosher: Some people believe that kosher chickens are raised more humanely and are less likely to be contaminated. Kosher laws insist birds be slaughtered with a single cut to the neck using a special razor-sharp blade. The birds are not stunned, as is standard in most operations. However, one shouldn’t assume that all kosher chickens are treated humanely, say some animal-welfare groups. As for the relative food safety of kosher chicken, scientific results have been mixed.

Farm-Raised: The USDA defines a "farm" as any operation that sells at least $1,000 of agricultural commodities, so any producer raising that much chicken to sell is entitled to use this label. It says nothing about how the chickens were raised.

Healthy Choices

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, arguably the most versatile cut of chicken, are very low in fat, with only 1 to 2 grams of fat per serving. One 4- to 5-ounce breast yields a perfect 3-ounce cooked portion when you remove the tender—the virtually fat-free strip of rib meat typically found attached to the underside of a chicken breast. Don’t throw those tenders away—freeze them in an airtight container until you’ve gathered enough to make a meal. Tenders can also be purchased separately and are perfect for quick stir-fries, chicken satay or kid-friendly breaded "chicken fingers."

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