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What’s for dinner this week? Chances are at least one meal will include chicken, because of its low cost and versatility.

I recently participated in a sponsored tour of chicken production from the hatchery and chicken houses to the processing plant. What I learned dispelled many of the myths I had believed about how chickens are raised and processed.

The scoop on growth

Selective breeding and optimized nutrition are used to improve the size and other characteristics of broilers, but no genetic modification or engineering is used.

Like young humans, chickens’ growth and development is dependent upon calories and protein. Corn and soybeans compose the primary feed, which is supplemented with vitamins and minerals.

Hormones are never given to chicken. Period. In fact, they’re illegal.

Antibiotics are another story, but things are changing. In recent months, a variety of producers, restaurant chains and retailers announced plans to minimize antibiotic use in chickens.

Since the 1950s, poultry producers have treated animals with antibiotics through feed and drinking water as a way to stave off illness and promote weight gain. The problem, of course, is that overuse of antibiotics is linked to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, a risk to human health.

Recently two large poultry companies, Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson, announced they will curtail antibiotic use from chicken production in the next few years. They’re also working to end their chicken operations’ use of antibiotics used to fight human illnesses.

Another company, Perdue Farms, has eliminated all types of antibiotics from about half of the chicken it sells and estimates 95 percent of its chicken never receive any antibiotics used to treat humans.

Inside the chicken house

The chickens I saw were being raised humanely. For example, they have plenty of space while they are growing until the final three days. Still, in order to meet demand, most chicken comes from large-scale U.S. commercial farms that can produce the most meat at the lowest cost.

At the processing plants, food safety is ensured by incorporating Good Manufacturing Practices. Every bird is checked over for disease by a Department of Agriculture inspector.

The good news is that consumers concerned about what’s in their food — and the safety and ethics of how it’s produced — are demanding changes. And the producers are listening.

Christine Palumbo is a Naperville-registered dietitian nutritionist who is a fan of dark chicken meat. Follow her on Twitter @PalumboRD, Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition, or Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com.

Ha-Cha-Cha! Burgers

Serves four

Ready in 20 minutes

Fruit salsa

1 ripe peach, peeled and diced

1 ripe nectarine, diced

2 tbsp. minced red onion

2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro

Juice of 1 lime

¼ tsp. chopped jalapeno pepper

Burgers

1 package fresh ground chicken or turkey

2 tsp. minced garlic

1½ tbsp. chili powder

½ cup plain bread crumbs

DIRECTIONS: Stir together all salsa ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate. Stir together burger ingredients in a medium bowl and form into four patties. Place on a lightly oiled grill and cook over medium-high direct heat for about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time. Burgers are done when a meat thermometer inserted into the side reaches 165° Fahrenheit or juices run clear and burgers bounce back to the touch. Serve with salsa, with or without a roll.

NUTRITION FACTS: 280 calories, 23 g carbohydrates (7 g sugars), 22 g protein, 10 g fat (3 g saturated), 2 g fiber, 170 mg sodium.

Used with permission from ChickenEveryMonth.com.

Updated 4:57 pm, July 9, 2018
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