premium price = premium quality?
what the labels on poultry really mean
With the holidays nearing, many families will be preparing special meals that will likely feature turkey as the main dish. For the best meat quality, what criteria should be considered when buying a turkey?
In the poultry world, there are different regulations on labeling that are important to consumers, but many are misleading. The only grade that consumers will see on poultry in stores is Grade A, but other labeling may include words like “fresh”, “pure” or “premium”. Unfortunately, these labels are often marketing terms rather than safety or meat quality related. Labels on poultry refer to a number of things, but are most commonly concerning the ethical treatment of the animal or its daily diet. For instance, the term “premium” may imply that the meat quality is a higher grade or healthier, because the actual definition of the word is “of exceptional quality or greater value than others of its kind”. This false implication has actually no meaning, because those terms do not exist within the USDA’s guidelines and regulatory grade laws*. In regards to the diet or treatment of poultry and meat, you’ll often see labels proclaiming their product is “cage free” “pasture-raised”. These labels are just as misleading and ambiguous. Read more about understanding labeling here.
Food safety concerns such as contaminants and additives are not required to be on any type of labeling on food products. Residues from drugs (veterinary), environmental pollutants (pesticides), or biological toxins (pathogens, mycotoxins) are found in meat and poultry items. Examples of hazards specific to poultry include antibiotics, hormones and pathogens. There are standard food safety measures in place in the processing and production of poultry and other meats, however those standards don’t routinely cover all named risks. They mainly focus on hygiene factors and cross contamination in preparing poultry to be sold and distributed in the market. But what about these environmental toxins that are ending up in our poultry, meats, eggs, dairy, and produce? This is a large factor to consider when choosing the right turkey for your Thanksgiving holiday meal.
Making sure the poultry you buy is sourced from a farm that ethically raises their animals, and gives them access to outdoors is going to make an impact. Animals raised on farms that can roam free, and perform in natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging are less likely to develop diseases and toxins that end up on our dinner plate. Animals that are fed a clean and organic diet is a large contributor of quality as well. Understanding how to navigate through the misleading labels is what’s really going to impact the quality of the bird you bring home to your family. Shop smart by staying informed!