If you're one of the millions of Americans who buys chicken at the grocery store each week, you may or may not have noticed a peculiar label on some of the pre-packaged meat. Today, consumers are warming up to the concept of "air-chilled chicken." But what exactly is it?
Foodie sites like Delish and Food & Wine have recently been touting the benefits of the method — which has been used in Europe for decades — like providing a better taste and a lower risk of salmonella.
Food safety regulations in the U.S. require chickens to be cooled at a temperature below 40 degrees within four hours of being killed. Immersing chicken in cold water, the most common method of doing so used by most commercial poultry processors, has drawbacks. The excess water can saturate the skin and muddle the natural flavors of the bird. Processing chickens in a shared water tank also increases the risk of bacterial cross-contamination.
But it turns out, there's another way.
As the supermarket chain Whole Foods explained on its blog back in June, the process of air chilling chickens after slaughter doesn't require the bird to be doused in water. Instead, it uses tracks to carry individual birds through lower temperature-controlled chambers over the course of three hours.
The most noticeable benefit of the process is that it results in juicier meat that roasts faster since it's not filled with a foreign water solution.
Then there are the less tangible, but no less important, advantages. Since the chickens are processed separately, air chilling lowers the chance of cross-contamination. And because it requires less water usage, the method is more environmentally friendly, Delish reported, resulting in millions of gallons of water saved annually.
So the next time you're shopping for poultry, note that all chickens are not created equal. Shoppers interested in trying air-chilled chicken should look for poultry with the appropriate label at major chains like Whole Foods and Costco.