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Turkey Labeling Terms

Posted on: November 6th, 2012

Meat package labels contain words that are regulated by the USDA, as well as enticing words to get you to buy.  The goal of the USDA is to protect the consumer from marketing terms designed to mislead and sway your purchase. Unfortunately deceptive marketing terminology

is common, but understanding labeling can help!
Below you’ll find my personal recommendations in a nutshell for those who like the fast version; and
then explanations of USDA labeling terms. I hope this helps!
Here’s how I see it…
1) Be cautious, package labeling can be very deceptive
and usually leads to mistruths that many incorrectly accept as fact or even
common knowledge (for instance the term ‘Free Range’)
2) When it comes to poultry, fresh is the best whenever possible. Freezing causes expansion, which breaks down cell walls,
allowing the natural juices to drain away more freely when thawed.
3) While brining can add great flavor to a bird, I
strongly suggest avoiding pre-brined birds from a processor as they are usually injected with artificial flavorings,
flavorings and lots of water, gaining 15% or more in weight.  I am a strong proponent of brining poultry, but only with homemade brines with natural ingredients.  We offer my
natural brine recipes prepackaged in our markets, or make your own with a recipe from our website.
4) Terms such as ‘Free Range’, ‘Organic’, ‘Kosher’, or ‘Air Chilled’ have
absolutely nothing to do with quality, taste or performance at the table.

Turkey Labeling Terms
Frozen Turkeys
Turkeys chilled below 0° F must be labeled frozen.
Fresh Turkeys
Turkeys may be labeled as fresh if they have never
been chilled below 26° F.
Deep-Chilled Turkeys
Turkeys that have been chilled below 26°, but not
below 0° may be labeled as “not previously frozen.”
Basted or Self-Basting Turkeys
Also known as ‘enhanced’, this is a process of
injecting meats with a water-based solution of flavorings and chemicals.
Notes: The goal is to increase flavor,
juiciness and the weight of the bird. Approximately 70% of the poultry (and
pork) on the market today is ‘brined’ or ‘enhanced’.  We do not buy
enhanced meats at Tony’s Market.
Natural Turkeys
A minimally processed product containing no added or
artificial ingredients.
Kosher Turkeys
Premium birds that are processed and inspected under
rabbinical supervision and treated with a salt water brine.
Hen or Tom Turkeys
Hen turkeys are female birds, usually weighing from
8-16 pounds. Tom turkeys are males, usually weighing from 18 to 32 pounds. There was a time when hen turkeys offered more white meat, but no longer – the only real difference is size.
Free Range Turkeys
To add the words “Free Range” to the label, a grower
must provide small door in the henhouse to a fenced outdoor yard.
*Notes: This
labeling / marketing term has nothing to do with quality or taste. While a few
birds may venture outdoors, the vast majority does not, but all can be labeled
as Free Range.  Producers see this as a gimmick and avoid it because
of the negative effects of increased stress and mortality due to disease,
insects, and temperature. While ‘Free Range’ poultry can be a special product
of excellent quality, most simply use the term as a marketing tool to gain
bigger profits, not better poultry.
Organic Turkeys
These labeling laws tend to get very complicated and
are concerned with items such as land and water use, feed certification and the use of ionizing radiation.
*Notes: While
organic farming can be a great thing, the labeling term has no bearing on
quality, flavor, juiciness, nutrition, safety or wholesomeness. The use of hormones is not allowed
in any poultry raised in the USA.
Premium Brand Turkeys
Many producers go above and beyond to produce premium
turkeys that consistently
offer superior quality – at Tony’s we only handle premium branded products.
Young Turkey
Turkeys that are less than 8 months old at time of
harvest can be labeled as ‘Young Turkeys’.  Most turkeys reach market size
at 5 months.
Air-Chilled Turkeys
Most turkeys are washed and chilled quickly in
ice-cold water, and since the bird can absorb some of this water in the process
(1-3% by weight), the USDA requires this be disclosed on a label.  In
response to this, some have taken to air-chilling poultry, which increases
price.  Note: I have tasted the two side
by side and cannot discern a difference, so it’s not something I am willing to
pay more for.
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