If you've ever searched the aisles for healthy chicken, you know there are a lot of options out there, but what do these labels really mean, and how can you make sure you're getting what you pay for?
We've all heard the term "farm raised," but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this label simply means that a chicken was born and raised on a farm. It doesn't define how they were treated. Technically, all chickens are farm-raised, so this label really has no meaning.
Another term to watch out for is "natural." While it's a popular marketing phrase, this label doesn't carry an weight either.
You've also probably seen the label "hormone-free." What most people don't know is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration already prohibits the use of any artificial hormones in the production of poultry. That means any brand of chicken can be labeled "hormone-free."
Another term that can be deceiving is "free range." There are currently no industry standards that specifically define what a "free range" farm is. It could be anything from an open yard to a small, penned-in area.
As a result, 99 percent of poultry labeled "free range" simply isn't. You'll have to go to a local farm or farmer's market to get true free-range chicken.
Lastly, we have "organic," which is the only label that guarantees certain standards. This term means that there are no antibiotics used, and that 100 percent of the chicken's feed must be grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides and other genetically-modified organisms for at least three years.
While these chickens may be more expensive, they're also much more nutritious and definitely worth the extra cost. So remember, sometimes the real savings happen when you know what you're paying for.