Is Chicken Safe? 4 Steps To Serving Safer Poultry

Is Chicken Safe? 4 Steps To Serving Safer Poultry

October 21, 2014

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director 

Affordable, bland-enough-for-picky-eaters, and easy to serve when life is hectic, chicken is a tried and true family meal favorite. But in today’s food climate, when dinner tends to come with an unexpected side of toxic hazards, it’s hard not to wonder if chicken is safe.

The answer? It depends.

Conventional chicken and chicken “products” (what a concept!) can be less than savory. The Natural Resources Defense Council recently revealed, for example, over 200 health violations at just one west coast supplier of so-called “natural” chicken, including mold, fecal contamination, and cockroaches issues. Questionable conditions at countless other producers range from the use of chemical sprays and washes on meat to processing lines that require workers to inspect 140 birds per minute.

There’s also, of course, the issue of humane treatment of animals. And the issue of the genetically modified ingredients in conventional chicken feed. As well as the critical issue of antibiotics, which are routinely fed to conventional chickens to enhance growth and prevent disease in overcrowded factory-farm conditions. Some of these drugs are even in the same classes as those taken by people. All of them expose our families to traces of unnecessary medications and promote the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten public health. In addition, tests on chicken feather meal, a byproduct consisting of ground up poultry feathers, show that U.S. birds are being treated with banned antibiotics as well as arsenic, antihistamines, and acetaminophen. And guess what? That feather meal is being fed back to chicken—as well as fish, cattle, and pigs—as a source of protein. You are what you eat. Which means you are what the chicken you eat eats, too.

If none of this makes you want to back away from conventional chicken, maybe recent Department of Agriculture rulings will. They now allow chicken from the U.S. to be sent to China, a country with a well-documented poor food safety record, for processing. In China, the chicken is made into chicken nuggets, soups, and other items, and then shipped back to America, all without any country-of-origin labeling.

If you’d still like to serve chicken to your family, here’s how to do it safely:

1. Choose organic chicken. “Natural” doesn’t cut it. USDA certified organic chicken is not allowed to be treated with antibiotics. Chlorine disinfecting baths and genetically modified (GMO) feed are also not permitted. It typically comes from smaller farms with fewer problems.

2.  Look for poultry from local producers that let their birds run around, cage-free. Knowing your grower (and what they feed and how they process their birds) is one of the best ways to assure quality.

3. If you find organic or local, pastured birds too expensive, try buying less. Serve poultry (and meat) in smaller portions, and consider it more a side dish than an entrée. And stretch what you’ve got—use bones to make broth. It’s healthier for the planet as well as your own flock!

4.  Cook the real deal—parts with bones, skin, and all. Stay away from chicken nuggets and other processed chicken “products.” Chances are good they contain chemical additives and are a recipe for risk.


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