Q: What do all those labels on chicken packages mean?
Oz says: Sometimes, almost nothing. We tapped Christine Alvarado, Ph.D., an associate professor of poultry processing and products at Texas A&M University, and Robert Lawrence, founding director of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, to sort out what actually matters.
The Label Says: Hormone-Free
Doesn't mean much. It's like labeling water "calorie-free." The FDA doesn't allow hormones to be used in poultry. (They've been illegal since the late '50s.)
The Verdict: Don't pay extra for this.
The Label Says: No Antibiotics Ever
This label means exactly what it says, but watch for other tricky wording. "No antibiotics added" or "Raised without antibiotics" could mean chicks got these at at the hatchery. (The drugs clear out in five to seven days.) Technically, all chicken is antibiotic-free, because the drugs must disappear before processing. But "No antibiotics ever" is best, says Lawrence: The fewer of these in use, the lower the chance that antibiotic-resistant superbugs could develop.
The Verdict: Look for it!
The Label Says: Free-Range or Free-Roaming
Birds have access to the outdoors, but there are no requirements for how much time they spend there. Surprisingly, many choose to stay indoors, close to food and sheltered from predators (although they can move around in the coop.)
The Verdict: Better for the chicken.
The Label Says: Organic
Poultry sold with this certification on the package must meet the largest number of requirements: It must be free-range, and the feed must be grown without GMOs, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers.
The Verdict: Better for the earth.
The Label Says: No Preservatives
Free of compounds that extend shelf life. Alvarado says that products without this label are OK too: Any preservatives would have been vetted and are safe to consume but must be listed in the ingredients.
The Verdict: Use it quickly.
This story originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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