Things to consider when buying chicken

LA Daily News

Although Americans are eating less meat overall, chicken has surpassed beef as the most popular choice for meat. This is likely due to both the increased costs of beef and the common perception that chicken is a healthier form of protein. Now the average person eats about 60 pounds of chicken per year compared to just 16 pounds of chicken yearly, on average, in the 1950s.

It has become evident that many poultry farms are practicing widespread use of antibiotics in their flocks, which may pose a potential risk to human health. A major concern is that the antibiotics are administered long term at low doses, which may spur the growth of superbugs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic use by poultry producers started in the 1940s and has become common practice to keep birds disease-free and help them gain more weight.

Today, 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States are administered to livestock, not people.

The poultry industry believes the bugs that are becoming resistant to antibiotics are not likely to infect humans. However, public health experts, including the World Health Organization, are concerned that antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to modern medicine. It is estimated that nearly 2 million people get food poisoning from bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics and 23,000 people die from foodborne illness each year.

Just recently, Perdue Farms announced it is no longer routinely administering the antibiotic gentamicin to eggs in its hatcheries. While sick chicks will still receive antibiotics in their feed or water, the company is stepping away from the routine use of human antibiotics.

While this is one important step toward improving the process of producing America’s favorite meat, shopping for chicken has never been more confusing. Words like “organic,” “humane” and “cage-free” are found on poultry packaging, but what do they really mean?


The United States Department of Agriculture regulates organic meat, and poultry and products that are labeled organic have been fed only certified organic feed. Plus, the chickens have not been given antibiotics. Organic chickens are all free-range chickens.


Chicken may be labeled “free-range” if they had outdoor access for part of the day, however, this term is not government regulated so there is no specific agreed upon definition. Many animal rights advocates do not believe that “cage-free” is necessarily a good thing because being free from a cage does not guarantee better or healthier living conditions for the chickens. In fact, “cage-free” chickens likely do not have any outdoor access and often live inside crowded barns. Furthermore, you can not presume that chicken labeled “free-range” or “cage-free” is organic.


Certified humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care, which is endorsed by the Center for Food Safety and provides three levels of humane certifications related to the way chickens are raised, handled, transported and slaughtered.


The majority of chicken produced in the United States is water-chilled, which is a quick and efficient method to cool down chickens, however, there are some drawbacks. This method uses large amounts of fresh cold water, which can seem wasteful when there is such a shortage of fresh water. Also, the chicken absorbs the water it soaks in, which can add upwards of 12 percent to the chicken’s weight. Not only are you paying for this water weight, but the flavor of the chicken is watered down. Air-chilled chicken is preferred by many as it is believed to result in a healthier, more flavorful product, though you will have to pay a bit more per pound for it.

There are some labels on poultry that are pretty much meaningless, such as “no hormones added,” since the Food and Drug Administration prohibits all poultry from receiving artificial added hormones. Farm fresh, while it sounds nice, means nothing special since all commercial chickens are raised on farms.

LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. She can be reached at