Domesticated around 7000 BC in India and China, chicken soon spread to West Asia and Japan. Since early days, people found it economical to rear hens as compared to other animals. It was also easy to take care of them. Another point in favour of chicken was the fact that a family could consume the whole chicken at one go without worrying about the meat going bad.
The USDA's Agricultural long-term projections forecast an increase in chicken consumption from 85.4 pounds in 2007, to 88.1 pounds in 2017 in the US alone. Beef consumption on the other hand, is expected to fall from 65.0 pounds in 2007, to 60.1 pound in 2017.
Why should I be aware of this?
Research shows that most people across the world love chicken above all other meat. They love its taste, its nutritional profile, its variety and convenience. But educated consumers want to know more about their chicken. There are several reasons for that.
Chicken has some inherent health benefits. There are also a few health hazards associated with chicken. But the way the chicken is reared, packaged, sold and cooked is very important. Moreover, the recent outbreak of bird flu has raised several doubts in the minds of the consumers. It affects a person's health, his family's health and the society too!
How does this affect me?
In recent years chicken has become the primary source of animal protein across the world, thanks to health risks associated with red meat. Even as chicken is touted for its health benefits, experts are informing consumers about the health hazards associated with chicken.
Health benefits of chicken
- Chicken is a very good source of protein.
- Chicken has less saturated fat than beef. The chicken breast is the leanest part of the chicken and has less than half the fat contained in a trimmed T-bone steak.
- It is rich in cancer-protective B vitamin, niacin. A four-ounce serving of chicken provides 72.0% of the daily value for niacin.
- It is also a good source of the trace mineral, selenium, an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function.
- Chicken is known to provide protection against alzheimer's and age-related cognitive problems.
- It is a good source of B vitamins that are involved as cofactors and help enzymes throughout the body guide metabolic reactions.
Health hazards associated with chicken
The Time magazine has referred to raw chicken as "one of the most dangerous items in the American home," and each year in the US alone, contaminated chicken kills at least 1,000 people while sickening as many as 80 million. Health hazards associated with consumption of chicken fall into two categories--
1. Consumption of any chicken flesh
- Microbial pathogens --Chicken is susceptible to microbial pathogens which include bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. When people eat these infected chicken, they might fall ill, and sometimes die. The most common pathogens in chicken flesh are salmonella and campylobacter. Salmonella is a bacteria which can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, weakness and exhaustion. Studies show that 30 percent of chicken is tainted with Salmonella and 62 percent with Campylobacter.
- Cancer -- Chicken flesh has to be cooked before it is eaten by humans. However, during the the process of cooking chicken flesh, heterocyclic aromatic amines, cancer-causing compounds, are formed. A report from the U.S. National Cancer Institute reveals that oven-broiled, pan-fried, or grilled chicken flesh actually contains more of these carcinogens than red meat. The longer the meat is cooked, the larger the load of carcinogens in the meat. Grilled chicken contains 480 nanograms per gram of the carcinogen PhIP. PhIP is suspected as a cause of both breast cancer and colon cancer.
- Saturated fat -- Contrary to popular misconceptions, chicken flesh is not low in fat. The fat found in chicken flesh is saturated fat. Skinless roasted dark meat from chicken legs is 32 percent fat. Skinless roasted light meat from chicken breasts is 18 percent.
- Cholesterol -- The cholesterol content of chicken flesh is similar to that of beef, approximately 25 milligrams per ounce. Cholesterol is found exclusively in muscle tissue and can't be trimmed away.
2. Consumption of chicken produced by industrial methods.
- Antibiotic Residues-- Roughly half of all antibiotics used in the U.S.are fed to farm animals. In the United States alone, 10.5 million pounds of antimicrobial medications are fed to chickens every year. These medications are excreted and then washed into ground water and waterways. In addition, the chicken flesh contains drug residues. A study conducted by a US government department showed that 83 percent were resistant to at least one antibiotic and 53 percent were resistant to three or more antibiotics; 6 percent of the bacteria were specifically resistant to the antibiotic which is the treatment of choice for children with salmonella poisoning.
- Mystery Feed -- Chicken are fed with slaughterhouse leftovers in factory farms. They are also fed manure in some cases, which may contain pesticides, drug residues, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones and microbial toxins.
- Food poisoning --- Pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter thrive in overcrowded industrial poultry production facilities, where these bacteria are easily spread from bird to bird.
- Inhygenic conditions lead to infected chicken -- The overcrowded factory farms follow fast pace and unsanitary slaughtering practices, thereby exposing chicken flesh to contaminants such as feces, bile, mucus, and partially digested feed, any of which might cause illness if ingested or even touched by humans.
- Contamination-- Mass production and transportation of slaughtered chicken introduces multiple opportunities for contamination. Studies show that maggots and other insect larvae have been found in the storage and transport equipment of U.S poultry producers. Shipments of meat have been contaminated with a wide variety of foreign matter such as grease, metal shavings, and dead insects.
The first outbreak of 'avian' or bird flu was recorded in 1890, followed by outbreaks in 1918, 1957 and 1968. Since May 1997, when the Bird flu virus H5N1 was isolated for the first time from a human patient, incidence of bird flu have been more frequent, particularly in Asia.
A form of influenza, bird flu is caused by viruses. Though the bird flu infects pigs and birds, on a few occasions it has jumped the species barrier and infected people. It is contagious within the species.
Farmed chicken are affected by two main types of bird flu. The mild variety may cause a bird to have more ruffled feathers and lay fewer eggs. The other deadly variety, has a 100% mortality rate. H5N1, is the most dangerous form of bird flu.
- No birds from flocks with disease should enter the food chain.
- Do not eat raw poultry parts, including raw blood, or raw eggs in or from areas with outbreaks in poultry.
- Separate raw meat from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.
- Do not use the same chopping board or the same knife.
- Do not handle both raw and cooked foods without washing your hands in between and do not place cooked meat back on the same plate or surface it was on, prior to cooking.
- Do not use raw or soft-boiled eggs in food preparations that will not be heat treated or cooked.
- Keep clean and wash your hands. After handling frozen or thawed raw poultry or eggs, wash your hands thoroughly with soap.
- Wash and disinfect all surfaces and utensils that have been in contact with the raw meat.
- Cook thoroughly: Thorough cooking of poultry meat will inactivate the virus. *Either ensure that the poultry meat reaches 70°C at the centre of the product (“piping” hot) or that the meat is not pink in any part.
- Egg yolks should not be runny or liquid.
Chicken and the environment
Phosphorus is an integral component in any animal's diet, but scientists have known for some time that animals do not digest much of the phosphorus in their feed. Poultry are fed a diet of seeds and grains with the majority of the phosphorus in the form of phytic acid or phytate, a form that poultry cannot digest. The undigested phosphorus is released in the animal's waste. Poultry waste is used as fertilizer. After years of applying litter to cropland, phosphorus accumulates in the soil, which can result in excess phosphorus leaching into local waterways.
Researchers at the University of Delaware evaluated a natural enzyme, called phytase, which helps animals digest more phosphorus.  The addition of the enzyme to animal feed resulted in a 23 percent reduction in the phosphorus content of chicken manure.
All about chicken
There are different ways of rearing chicken and the way the chicken is reared directly impacts our health.
Broilers are birds that are raised for meat. Most of the broilers have undergone genetic manipulation to enhance their growth rate. This results in increased breast and thigh tissue (the most popular parts of the animal), the development which is much more than their legs and organs.
These birds supposedly reach “slaughter weight” at just six or seven weeks of age. Some die of heart failure, a result of their disproportionately heavy bodies. Several die of thirst as their body structure becomes a hinderance in reaching the water nozzles in their sheds. Still other pre-slaughter deaths occur from heat, cancer and infectious diseases, and all this occurs when they are less than seven weeks old.
Broiler-chicken facilities tend to be extremely overcrowded, with tens of thousands of birds crammed into a single closed broiler house. Each chicken is given less than a square foot of space. Maintaining health and cleanliness is difficult in such conditions. The piles of chicken excretions result in ammonia fumes that cause burning sensation is the birds’ eyes, and result in blindness. Broiler birds are also more susceptible to salmonella bacteria.
After attaining slaughter weight, the chicken are loaded into crowded heated trucks where many birds die. Highly automatised slaughter facilities kill some 8,400 birds per hour.
Chickens are exempted from the USDA’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered.
Organic chickens are those that have always been fed only organic grains -- grains grown in farms where no chemicals or pesticides have been used for at least 3 years. The feed is checked and verified for organic standards. These chickens have never been given any antibiotics, hormones, or drugs and have been raised humanely and in a stress-free environment. The birds are free range chicken and have daily access to fresh air and sunshine outdoors. The term free range means that the birds are allowed access to the outdoors. It does not mean that the area outdoors (or indoors) is particularly clean.
Organic chicken have room to move and outdoors area is clean and safe. Their outdoor and indoor living area is cleaned with natural disinfectants instead of harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. Unlike conventional poultry farms, organic birds are raised in natural sunlight with access to the outdoors. It is believed that organic chicken tastes better.
Natural chicken is not organic chicken. Natural is a label for any food product that does not contain artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives and that it is minimally processed. Thus all chickens are "natural!"
Kosher has to do with what foods may be eaten, what foods can be eaten with other food, how these foods are prepared, how the food is processed (not to include non-kosher ingredients) and manufactured (in a facility that complies with kosher dietary standards and does not mix meat and milk, for example) and how the animal is slaughtered - in the most humane way possible so as to cause the animal the least amount of stress.
Making a chicken kosher takes about three times as long as non-kosher. During processing, chickens are soaked in a brine to remove the blood and as per the laws of kashrut. Specially trained rabbinical inspectors check every bird for signs of abnormalities or disease and will reject birds otherwise acceptable by government standards.
Kosher Chickens that are fed only grain (never animals or animal by-products), are free range in a clean environment and are never given antibiotics, growth hormones or steroids, are also considered healthy to eat. However, their feed is conventional and is, therefore, genetically modified and treated with chemicals and pesticides. Their environment might also have been cleaned with chemicals.
Kosher Chicken can be used to prepare kosher and non-kosher meals. Kosher organic Chicken is just the best choice with the highest most humane standards at every stage.
What can I do about it?
Here are some useful tips for buying, storing and cooking chicken.
Tips for buying good chicken
- Check out the thickness of the flesh in proportion to the bone while buying chicken. If the chicken is too fleshy, then there might have been interference with the natural process during its growth. If the breast looks very skinny you are then you are not getting value for money.
- While selecting chicken, check if there is liquid residue, either wet or frozen on the bottom of the package. If there is such a residue then it means that the food has been frozen and the cells have released a percentage of their fluids.
- Freezing chicken at very low temperature causes a breakdown in protein and loss of natural juices. During the cooking process, the bones and nearby meat can turn an unappetizing dark color. Check for signs of ice along wings, backs or edges.
- Look for chicken with pink end bones pink. These are fresher than the ones that are gray in colour.
- Avoid larger birds as they are the older birds, with not so tender meat. Young chickens have less fat.
- Do not buy chicken if the sell-by date on the label has already expired.
- If possible, purchase chicken that has been organically raised or that is "free-range" since these methods of poultry raising are both more humane and produce chickens that are both tastier and better for your health
- Whole chicken is safe for three days while cut-up chicken is safe for two days.
- Cooked chicken should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
- A whole cooked chicken can be kept in the refrigerator for three days and cut-up cooked chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for two days.
Chicken cooking tips
- Skin the chicken before cooking, as chickens with the skin have double the amount of fat and saturated fat.
- To cook chicken brown, brush it with low salt soy sauce.
- Avoid leaving stuffed or cooked chicken at room temperature for more than 40 minutes before refrigerating.
- The best way of thawing chicken is to place it in a bowl of cold water, with added salt. This enhances the flavour and results in additional cleaning.
- Remember that a low to moderate cooking temperature will produce a juicier chicken, since more fat and moisture are retained.
- Do not keep raw chicken in the refrigerator, for more than 2 days without being frozen.
- Lemon is a natural tenderizer for chicken. It gives it a unique flavor. If you want to cook your chicken brown then brush on some low salt soy sauce.
- Cook chicken above 165 degree F, especially when you have family members who have weak immune systems.
- When stuffing chicken, seal the opening with a piece of raw potato for a flavoured taste.
- When you make chicken salad, be sure the meat has been cooked to 180 degrees F or 82.2 C, then allow the meat to cool in the refrigerator before adding the salad dressing.
- Worldwide, more than 50 billion chickens are raised and slaughtered annually.
- Modern domesticated chickens are descendants of the red jungle fowl of India
- Chicken has been domesticated for at least 4,000 years.
- The Egyptians built brick incubators that could hold 10,000 chicks at a time over 4000 years ago.
- More than half of all chicken entrees ordered in restaurants are for fried chicken.
- Chicks are separated into male and female by chicken sexers. The chicken sexer holds each chick by hand up to a 300 watt bulb to determine if it is male or female (the females are kept for egg laying). A typical chicken sexer examines 1,000 chicks per hour, 80,000 per day, with 99% accuracy.
- The average American eats over 80 pounds of chicken each year.
- The average domestic hen lays 255 eggs per year.
- It takes about 4 1/2 pounds of feed for a chicken to produce a dozen eggs.
- In 1950 approximately 80% of chickens were 'free range', by 1980 only 1% were 'free range.' Today it is back up to 12%.
- It is against the law to eat chicken with a fork in Gainesville, Georgia, the 'Chicken Capital of the World.'
- In 1957, the Asian flu from the H2N2 influenza virus killed 100,000 people.
- Something Smells Fowl
- What is avian influenza?
- Before you bite: Facts on fish, chicken, beef
- No bird flu risk for consumers from properly cooked poultry and eggs
- The World's Healthiest Foods
- World Poultry
- Chicken Industry
- Avian flu timeline
- Chicken Facts
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