NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

USDA Deciding How Much Water Should Be In Chickens

January 18, 1999

Federal regulators wind up in some of the darnedest arguments, observers report. Right now those at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are trying to determine standards for how much water should be allowed to remain in processed chickens.

Here's how this weighty and meaty issue evolved:

  • Producers of beef, pork and lamb have long been incensed by a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service rule that allows chicken carcasses to be sold with up to 8 percent of water retained, following a quick-chill bath which lowers their temperatures.
  • When a group of Iowa livestock producers -- who are forbidden to have water in the meat they sell -- sued the USDA several years ago over the 8 percent allowance for birds, a judge ruled that it was "arbitrary and capricious" and ordered the agency to justify the limits.
  • It is currently trying to do that and a rule should be ready by summer.
  • Meanwhile, chicken processors say they are looking at having to spend millions of dollars on technology to try to get the water out of the carcasses.

The National Chicken Council likes the fact that the federal government recognizes that water-immersion chilling is safe, efficient and economical -- but it argues that a certain amount of water has to be retained for food-safety reasons.

Nevertheless, the agency suspects that some processors are not squeezing as much water out of their birds as they might.

Source: Cindy Skrzycki, "Should Poultry Be Required to Drip Dry?" Washington Post, January 15, 1999.


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