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Buying Poultry

Poultry Grades

Mandatory poultry inspection is done by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Grading involves evaluating poultry in terms of quality standards. Quality standards reflect factors that affect the inherent properties of poultry.

U.S. grades apply to six kinds of poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, goose, guinea, and pigeon. The highest quality is U.S. Grade A, the only poultry grade you are likely to see in the store. U.S. Grades B and C poultry may be sold at retail, but are usually used in further-processed products where the poultry meat is cut up, chopped, or ground.

Grade A poultry whole carcasses and bone-in parts,

  • are fully fleshed and meaty;
  • have a good conformation, a normal shape;
  • are free of disjointed or broken bones;
  • have a well-developed and well-distributed layer of fat in the skin;
  • are free of pinfeathers, exposed flesh, and discolorations; and,
  • in the case of whole carcasses, have no missing parts.

Grade A boneless poultry products are free of bone, cartilage, tendons, bruises, and blood clots. Grade A poultry products that are frozen must be free of freezing defects such as dehydration or excess moisture.

Select by Class

The class of poultry indicates the age of the bird. Age affects the tenderness of poultry meat and dictates the cooking method to use for maximum flavor and tenderness. Poultry meat from young birds is more tender than poultry meat from older birds.

Young birds provide tender-meated poultry that is suitable for all cooking methods, especially broiling, barbecuing, roasting, or frying. Mature birds provide less tender-meated poultry that is suitable for moist-heat cooking such as stewing or baking, and may be preferred for use in soups, casseroles, salads, or sandwiches.

Safe Handling

Wash hands, cutting board, utensils, and work surface with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw and cooked poultry.

Keep raw poultry in the refrigerator (40 °F). Cook within 1 to 2 days, or freeze it.

Keep frozen poultry in the freezer (0 °F). Cook promptly after thawing. Thaw in the refrigerator; in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes; or in a microwave oven.

Keep cooked poultry in the refrigerator. Use within 4 days, or freeze it.

Completely cook poultry at one time. Never partially cook, then store and finish cooking later.

Whole birds should be stuffed just before cooking. Mix dry ingredients with other ingredients (for example, margarine, onion, and broth) just before stuffing the bird. Remove stuffing from the bird immediately after cooking. Store stuffing separately in the refrigerator.

When serving poultry, never leave it out of the refrigerator more than 2 hours.

Put cooked poultry on a clean plate, never on a plate that held raw poultry and had not yet been thoroughly washed.

Source: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, www.ams.usda.gov/howtobuy/meat.htm
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