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Confused by Chicken Labels? Here’s What You Should Look For:

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about how to purchase chicken…and it is no surprise! Chickens are one of the most confusing things to purchase when it comes to trying to by the best REAL food for your family. Why so confusing? Chickens come with about a zillion different labels and claims. Some of them are REALLY important but most of them are blowing smoke, marketing gimmicks, or just plain nonsense. In this video I’m going to help you know the difference.

Here’s the details on what the labels I talk about in the video:

What the Organic symbol means on chicken:

  • Fed organic/non-GMO feeds
  • No Antibiotics
  • No pesticides in the feed or grazing areas
  • Uncaged {in barns OR warehouses OR pasture}
  • Access Outdoors

What  the Organic symbol doesn’t mean on chicken:

  • no required access to grass {the outdoor access MAY be concrete slab outdoors}
  • Can be crowded conditions just like conventional farms
  • No outdoor time is mandated {some can mean ANY time outdoors}

What humanely raised means on chicken:

  • humanely raised animals are healthier animals {which means more nutrients for you!}
  • Look specifically for these seals that are organizations acting as watchdogs and identifying the good guys:
  1. Certified Humane
  2. American Humane Certified
  3. Animal Welfare Approved
  4. Global Animal Partnership

What Antibiotic Free/No Antibiotics means on chicken:

  • US law DOES allow antibiotics, so this label means the chickens for sale didn’t receive any of them.  Chickens who become ill and are administered antibiotics can not receive this status.

What Vegetarian Fed means on chicken:

  • Vegetarian fed means the chicken were not fed any animal bi-products in their feed.  That means no bone meal from cows or pigs, or the like.  Although chickens are omnivores {they eat bugs}, feeding them vegetarian feed is a GOOD thing.

Confused by Chicken Labels From Wholesome Mommy

Other Labels you Might See that are There to TRICK You:

  • Natural or Naturally Raised: Means NOTHING.  This is an empty statement, not regulated and is meant to trick you into thinking that they chickens were handled naturally.  Doesn’t that envoke green pastures to you??
  • Hormone Free/No Added Hormones: US law prohibits the use of hormones in chickens.  This label is hilarious to me because it is basically the brand boasting that they are not law breakers. Again, they are hoping that this statement will make you THINK that you are purchasing a superior product when in fact, you aren’t getting anything different.
  • Free-Range: This one is really tricky. It doesn’t MEAN anything on egg cartons {it isn’t a regulated term}.  BUT, it means a little something on chicken meat.  Don’t get to worked up about it though, the USDA only requires a mere 5 minutes to open air access to allow this term to be stamped on the package.

Okay Now, But, What Should I Buy??

I take a BEST, BETTER, GOOD approach:

BEST {look for these labels together}:

  • organic
  • Humanely Raised

BETTER {look for these labels together} – this will typically be more affordable than “BEST:”

  • Humanely Raised
  • Antibiotic Free/No Antibiotics
  • Vegetarian Fed

GOOD – can’t afford any of the above?  Here’s some tips:

  • ANY fresh chicken is better than processed {chicken patties, chicken nuggets, etc}.  They quality will be astronomically better. ‘
  • Buy chicken breasts, the cheapest you can find.  The leaner cuts of meat will contain fewer toxins because toxins are concentrated in the animal’s fat.

Trying to make the “BETTER” option work for your budget? Here’s some tips:

  1. Buy the dark meat cuts – they are cheaper {only when buying from the BEST or BETTER tiers}
  2. Buy the WHOLE bird.  Price per pound on whole chickens is cheaper than “parts” plus you’ll get more than one meal out of it and the bone broth
  3. Follow me to learn who to make ONE bird into THREE meals. :)

Have you seen another label I didn’t describe here?  Comment below and let me know your questions and I will help you figure it out!

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  1. I can’t believe how much I learned just from this one post. I totally appreciate you breaking it down for us. I’m going to pin this!

  2. I can get behind buying the darker meat cuts, they tend to be yummier in my opinion ;)

  3. I did’t know the toxins were concentrated in the fats – I usually trim my chickens! We have started to buy organic chicken, or chicken from Whole Foods that is certified humane!

  4. Your readers might also like the book “Rich Food, Poor Food”, kind of the “Eat This, Not That” for real food. The authors do something like what you’ve done with the chicken with every section of the grocery store. Bonus points for your ‘Oh SNAP!’ series – I got it from the library so it was FREE for me to read – I like free! I have only been finding room in my budget for whole chickens lately, and not the good kind. I need to look in the freezer for BLSL breasts that fit the bill – maybe even at Sam’s? I will look for this brand or the Coleman brand you suggested!

    • Denisesawyer says:

      Yes, I have that book! I actually reviewed it on this blog! It is a GREAT book. I highly recommend it and in fact you can find a link to the book in my side bar. ;)
      Good luck on your chicken search!
      Wholesome Mommy

  5. There is definitely some info in here that I didn’t know… going to be reading the labels in more detail from now on :)

  6. Very informative! Food labels can be so misleading sometimes!

  7. Lots of good information. Well done!

  8. thank you for this! It is so important for people to know about the chemicals being used in all of our food. My concern is the chicken being grown and shipped to/from China… I am trying to find time to research that.

    • Denisesawyer says:

      I recently read of that too Rebecca. I need to find some time to look into it as well. Please share what you find! :)
      Wholesome Mommy

  9. Thank you for this post! Pinning and bookmarking so I remember, it’s all so confusing! Love the video! :-)

  10. If chickens are meant to be omnivores, then why in the world is it a good thing to force them onto a vegetarian diet? A vegetarian diet is NOT what their digestive system is designed for.

    • Denisesawyer says:

      I don’t disagree. The perfect chicken is that which is allowed to live as it was intended. That would mean spending time roaming around foraging. But, without that label, the chicken you buy in the grocery store isn’t that prarie chicken. It is one being fed even worse – other animals. While they were intended to be ominivores, they were not intended to eat cows or pigs. They were intended to eat BUGS. Now that said, just because it says they are vegetarian fed doesn’t mean they didn’t eat a bug. It means they weren’t fed animal bi-products. Hope that clears it up a little bit Amanda. Food really shouldn’t be this complicated. :)
      Wholesome Mommy

  11. Thanks for this, I honestly haven’t given too much thought about chicken labels until now. This is great!

  12. I had no idea there were so many different labels/guidelines for chicken. And, I didn’t know they could still use antibiotics.

    • Denisesawyer says:

      Yes Krystyn. Overuse of antibiotics is actually very rampant in animal husbandry in CAFO farms. It is to the animals and OUR detriment.
      Wholesome Mommy

  13. Learned something new about chicken meat tonight. Thank you for the helpful video. Didn’t know about the hormone free info. Silly companies, trying to trick us!!

  14. It’s unfortunate that there are so many confusing labels on chicken. Thank you for providing all of this educational information on chicken labels. One label that threw me off was the free range until I learned what it really meant.

  15. It is important to read and understand the labels on our food. We have to look deep before we leap into a purchase.

  16. This is incredibly helpful. I am slowly moving my family to organic food and I am often confused. I have bookmarked this for future reference. Thank you for taking out the time to share this information.

  17. Thank you for that clarification, “organic” can be fairly confusing.

  18. Wow! I can’t believe how much I actually did not know about buying chicken. Thanks for this post – I have been working on feeding my family more healthy meals.

  19. katherine bartlett says:

    This is such a great idea! I’m totally loving it!

  20. Thank you for the awesome information! I was just introduced to your blog for the Real Food on a Food Stamps Budget and am loving all of the information you have provided! Thank you, again!

  21. Thank you! This helps SO much! I’ve tried going the real food route before and every time I give up because it seems so complicated, so expensive, time consuming, etc. I just found your blog and am excited to follow along and learn how to make this work for us!

  22. I love your SNAP and am going to follow it! I don’t know how to cook healthfully, but really need to for health reasons for myself and my adult daughter and elderly baby-food eating mom-in-law. My hubby is very healthy and I want to keep him that way, but the man can really put away food! Meaning 3-4 chicken breasts would be normal for him! I’m only going to give us what you recommend and he can raid the fridge for more. I’m sure he’ll get used to it, but I know he won’t complain. 2 questions… what is a good knife to slice like you did? I have some good ones but none that will slice meat like that. And will you show us how to cut up a chickdn? I’ve hacked a couple up but would love to learn the right way! Bless you, and thank you so much for what you’re doing!

  23. lorie Flanders says:

    Do you knew if an “orgamic” label means they were not fed GMO corn or soy in their feed? Just curious.

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