Poultry that is labeled “fresh”

Learn about the different criteria required for labeling poultry as "fresh" or "frozen."

We have all seen the ad that indicates that the poultry is fresh when you purchase it. Then it seems a bit frozen. So what is the real definition of “fresh”? The United States Department of Agriculture released a definition of “fresh” and “frozen” in 1997.

“Fresh” is determined when a product has never been below 26 degrees F. This means if you touch it the product is still pliable. Fresh poultry must also be labeled with a statement that says “keep refrigerated” this means you must store this product in a refrigerator at 40 degrees F or below to keep it safe. It is important when you have a fresh product to pay attention to the dates on the package. Since this item has already been stored and shelved, keep the “use by date” as the recommended date to use the product by for food safety.

There are different reasons consumers want fresh poultry, one could be because it is just easier to prepare without having to spend time thawing it. Many consumers make large quantity purchases to save money and then repackage the items in usable portions, freezing the item to use at a later date.

Frozen” is also a way to purchase poultry and other products. Frozen is defined by the product being solid to the touch and kept in a freezer or a frozen state at 0 degrees F. There will still be a date on the product, it can indicate use by or sell by but whatever the date is indicating it is important to cook or freeze by that date to keep food safe. Frozen products must be thawed carefully either in a refrigerator at 40 degrees F or below, under running water no higher in temperature than 70 degrees F, in a microwave if it will be cooked immediately after thawing or thaw it as part of the cooking process. Either way, having a frozen product takes planning. Michigan State University recommends following these practices to keep food safe when thawing.

So what do you do if you suspect the product was frozen and displayed as if it were fresh?  You can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline and submit a complaint. No matter whether the poultry is fresh or frozen it is inspected by USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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