Opinion

Hy-vee Dietitian

Terms to know when reading packaging labels on chicken

When shopping for chicken, you might be tempted to scrutinize every word on the package, but do you know what all the lingo really means? From hormone-free to “traceable,” here’s a cheat sheet for the next time you shop for chicken.

Some producers use a code or special technology that lets you identify which farm the chicken came from. Just BARE Chicken, for example, puts a traceability code next to the freshness date stamp. Consumers can then visit the Just BARE Chicken website to enter the 5-digit package code and learn more about the farm, the origin of the chicken and whether or not it is traceable to family farms.

During processing, cool water is used to quickly chill meat to a safe temperature. As chicken meat cools, it naturally absorbs some of the water. That’s why you see a “Water Retention Statement” on the package. The amount will vary depending on the cut of chicken, but many producers show between 6 and 12 percent water retention. And if you see the label “hand-trimmed,” it’s like it sounds; hand-trimmed means that someone took the time to trim the chicken.

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. Some producers, including Just BARE, offer both organic and natural options.

By USDA definition, a product cannot say all-natural if it contains artificial ingredients or added color. All-natural also means there has been minimal processing. In other words, it hasn’t been fundamentally altered from the raw product.

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. However, some consumers prefer that they are never used in the first place.

Vegetable- and Grain-Fed means chickens are not fed animal byproducts like bone meal or animal fat blends. However, it’s worth noting that chickens are omnivores in the wild, eating insects and worms along with grasses and seeds. That said, chickens can be raised on a vegetarian diet as long as the appropriate protein balance is achieved.

If you see “free-range” it might sound like the chickens are frolicking through the fields, but free-range simply means the chickens have access to the outdoors. “Cage-free” 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.

If in doubt, you can always ask your Hy-Vee dietitian, and remember to join one of the free dietitian-led store tours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon.

RECIPE

Sage Butter-Roasted Chicken Breasts

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Serves 4

All you need:

3 tablespoons softened butter

1 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

4 (2 pounds) Just BARE bone-in split chicken breasts

Coarse salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Fresh lemon wedges

Sprigs of fresh sage (for garnish)

All you do:

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Mash the butter and 1 tablespoon sage together with a fork in a small bowl. Loosen the skin over the chicken breasts with your fingers; gently spread sage butter over chicken under the skin. Smooth the skin back over the meat; season with salt and pepper. Place chicken skin-side up on foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.

2. Place chicken in oven. Roast, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes or until no longer pink near bone. Serve chicken with a squeeze of lemon, garnished with more sage.

Nutrition facts per serving: 390 calories, 26g fat,

10g saturated fat, 165mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium,

0g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g sugar, 40g protein