Understanding Poultry Labeling

How to Buy Poultry

Poultry is one of the most popularly consumed foods. These days there is more to poultry than just chicken, such as turkey, duck, goose, guinea and ostrich. Choosing the best requires a little background not only to insure the best quality, but to protect you and your family from poultry that may be damaged or infected.

Poultry Grading

The U.S. Department of Agriculture applies grades poultry: A, B and C. Packaged supermarket poultry is Grade A, while Grade B and C poultry is chopped or ground. U.S. Grade A means the bird is meaty, lacks disjointed or broken bones, skin is free of pinfeathers, exposed flesh and discolorations. Boneless products indicates the product is free of bone, cartilage, tendons or bruises.


Class refers to the age of the bird. Age affects tenderness and determines the cooking method to achieve maximum flavor and tenderness. are more tender and are suitable for all cooking methods: broiling, barbecuing, roasting and frying. Young bird class labels include: Chicken: young chicken, Rock Cornish game hen, broiler, fryer, roaster, or capon. Turkey: young turkey, fryer-roaster, young hen, or young tom. Duck: duckling, young, broiler or fryer or roaster duckling. Goose and guinea: young goose or guinea.

Mature birds are less tender but suitable for moist-heat cooking: stewing, baking, soups and casseroles. Mature birds class labels include: Chicken : mature chicken, hen, fowl, baking or stewing chicken. Turkey: mature, yearling or old turkey. Duck, goose, and guinea: mature or old duck, goose, or guinea.

Poultry Labels

Poultry labels tell you a lot more than just the nutrition information. However, you need to know the standard terminology to really understand what you are getting.

When buying packaged poultry, check the label's expiration date. Poultry can spoil quickly. Buyer beware. Labels, while required by the government, are sometimes misleading, designed more as marketing tools rather than disclosure.

  • Free-farmed. Verified by The American Humane Association that the animals had access to clean water and food, and were not administered growth stimulating antibiotics
  • Free-range/roaming. Means the poultry had "access" to the outdoors, even if only the coop door was left open for a few hours, or animals were penned.
  • Fresh. Means the bird's internal temperature never dropped below 24' F, but sometimes these are frozen rock hard in supermarket bins.
  • Kosher. Poultry prepared per Jewish dietary laws.
  • Natural. Contains no artificial ingredients or color, with minimal processing. Not very helpful because a verification system is lacking.
  • No additives. This refers to coloring, preservatives, flavorings and salt. No standards for verification of manufacturers label have been established. Does not exclude pesticides or antibiotics used in production.
  • No antibiotics. Birds raised drug-free. May not be verified.
  • No chemicals added. No standard manufacturers guidance or verification system exists. Since antibiotics and additives are not legally classified as chemicals, they can be added.
  • No hormones. The USDA prohibits the use of hormones in raising poultry, so this label is more marketing than informative.
  • Organic. Birds raised without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, genetic engineering, irradiation, sewage sludge and artificial ingredients.


When examining poultry, look for the following signs. Packaged poultry should have little or no blood pooled in the internal cavity if whole, or in the package. When you open up a package examine it for freshness. If it looks or smells spoiled, return the poultry in its package to the market where you purchased it for a refund or exchange. Grocers like to know which product they purchase has a problem. By returning the package you help them to identify problem vendors. And returning the product to them in its packaging makes it easier for them to refund or credit your purchase.

Where to Buy Poultry Online

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Understanding Poultry Labeling