Nov 12, 2007

Turkey Talk - Types of Turkeys in the Marketplace

Here is an explanation of the USDA terms on the package label of the turkey you will purchase.

Frozen Turkeys
Turkeys chilled below 0° F must be labeled “Frozen”. Freezing poultry has its problems; muscle cell walls actually break down, causing a loss of juices and a dryer turkey.

Fresh Turkeys
The term "fresh" may ONLY be placed on raw poultry that has never been below 26 °F.. According to the National turkey Federation, turkey doesn't freeze at 32 degrees F. but at a temperature closer to 26 degrees F.

This poultry label rule addresses a truth-in-labeling issue, not food safety, because most pathogenic bacteria do not multiply or multiply very slowly at normal refrigerator temperatures. The USDA concluded that the term "fresh" should not be used on the labeling of raw poultry products that have been chilled to the point they are hard to the touch.

Hard-chilled or Deep-chilled Turkeys
Poultry held at 0 °F or below must be labeled "frozen" or "previously frozen." No specific labeling is required on poultry between 0 and 26 °F.

Basted or Self-Basting Turkeys
This technique is used to increase flavor, juiciness and weight in poultry (as well as other meats). These meats are also known as 'Enhanced' - Enhanced meats are injected, or vacuum treated, to increase weight by approximately 15%. These processes add a water and chemical solutions of approved food additives into and on the meat.

Natural Turkeys
A minimally processed product containing no artificial ingredient or added color. These are essentially birds that are not ‘basted’ or ‘self-basting.’ The term makes no reference to the way the turkey was raised.

Kosher Turkeys
These turkey are grain-fed with no antibiotics and are allowed to roam freely. Kosher turkeys are processed and inspected under rabbinical supervision. This includes soaking in salt brine, which adds a distinctive, savory character. Much like basted or self basting, the process adds a solution to the meat and increases weight.

Hen or Tom Turkeys
The sex designation of "hen" (female) or "tom" (male) turkey is optional on the label, and is an indication of size. Toms are larger but both toms and hens should be equally tender.

Free Range Turkeys
This labeling / marketing term has nothing to do with quality or taste. To add the words “Free Range” to the label, a grower must open part of their turkey house to a common yard for a matter of minutes per day. While only a few birds venture out, they all can be labeled as Free Range.

Most producers avoid this because of the negative effects of increased stress, disease, insects, and temperature on the entire flock. While 'Free Range' poultry can be of excellent quality, I have found the majority of their marketing techniques to be deceptive - usually the point it better profits, not better poultry.

Organic Turkeys
This labeling and marketing term has nothing to do with quality, taste, tenderness or juiciness.

These labeling laws are concerned with items such as feed certification, genetic engineering, and the use of ionizing radiation. While organic farming is clearly a positive revolution in our mechanized world, it is not a determination of quality, though the majority of consumers confuse it as such.

Note: All high-quality American Turkeys are free of added hormones and antibiotics. The use of hormones is not allowed in any poultry, and both feed and poultry tissue is tested by inspectors to assure there are no chemical residues.

Young Turkey
Turkeys of either sex that are less than 8 months of age according to present regulations are considered "young" turkeys. Most turkeys reach market maturity at 4-5 months of age.

1 comment:

Valerie said...

I agree that free-range is not as great as it sounds for turkeys and chickens that end up killed for meat. However, I don't agree that the limited access outdoor increases stress - it is designed to decrease stress by offering physical and psychological enrichment that is not offered inside the facility. Enrichment actually decreases stress - even a limited access outdoors allows the birds to express a bit of their natural behavioral repertoire, which is impossible indoors. The stress inside is insurmountable because the birds are so crowded they cannot establish a normal pecking order and many end up dead from overpecking injuries. Unfortunately, instead of reducing density, factory farmers cut off the beaks of the birds. Some starve to death because the debeaking melts their beaks closed.

Free-range does make a bigger difference to birds raised to lay eggs. Cages are stuffed with birds so they can't spread their wings or turn around. Free-range eggs puts the birds in the same conditions as those raised for meat - with the same problems as above, but better than the cages.