How To Read Chicken Labels

No more fowl play: Learn what terms like 'free range' really mean

Browsing through the poultry section of the grocery store can be a head-scratcher: You go to the store armed with an awesome chicken recipe, only to be met with confusing terms like organic, cage free and free range.

Before your feathers get ruffled, we've developed a quick and easy guide to decoding the labels you'll most likely find at the store.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) strictly states that all organic poultry must be free ranging and naturally raised, which includes being fed an organic diet (free of genetically modified ingredients, pesticides and chemical fertilizers).

 Cage Free
This phrase is not a trick—it means exactly what it says. Chickens are allowed to roam freely either in a building, room or other enclosed areas. However, according to Serious Eats, "Caging typically doesn't have any place in raising poultry for meat . . . it's really just for an advertisement of the practices all poultry producers are already employing anyway."

 Free Range
Not to be confused with cage free, the AMB definition of free-ranging states that animals have "continuous and unconfined access to pasture throughout their life cycle." So while they have access to outdoor spaces, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are voluntarily venturing outside, since food and water are mostly kept inside.

 Antibiotic Free
You'll see this term on labels, but you also hear about it mentioned in TV commercials. The Perdue company prides itself on promoting its chickens as raised with "No Antibiotics Ever." According to the AMS, when poultry is labeled antibiotic free, it means that it has "never received antibiotics from birth to harvest."

 No Hormones Added
It has been illegal since 1959 to administer growth steroids or hormones to poultry in the United States. So when you see this on packages, the company is using additional marketing lingo to make you think it's taking extra steps with your poultry, when really it's just the law.