Buying chicken – What to look out for

by grainnep

The Irish are big lovers of chicken, buying close to 30kg per person every year.  But when you tuck into your roast chicken do you know where your bird is from, indeed does it matter? The truth is that in Ireland there is a strong possibility that the chicken you just bought or ate in a café has come from Thailand. I have nothing against imports or Thailand specifically but when I’m buying meat, fish or poultry I honestly don’t want it to have travelled thousands of miles before it reaches my shopping basket. I also don’t want it flushed with Carbon Dioxide – often done to imported poultry as it artificially extends its shelf life.

I have been completing my environmental food safety qualification recently and this has exposed me to food labelling and the legislation around this in the EU and in Ireland in particular. These laws and standards can be quite useful in helping you know where your chicken is from so that at least the decision you make about the chicken you buy is an informed one.

Price pressures means that imports have soared with almost 200million fillets coming into the republic each year.  Supermarkets often use reduced chicken prices as an enticement to get us consumers in the door discounting the price as a loss leader to keep shoppers coming.  The reality is that we are all under financial pressure every day doing our best to stretch our budgets so not many of us can afford the luxury of buying organic or even free range chicken but what can we do to arm ourselves with the best knowledge in order to buy the best product for our family?

Look for the Bord Bia Quality Mark.
Bord Bia Quality Assured Chicken is easily identified on packaging, with either a Republic, Northern Ireland or both sticker. Where you see Bord Bia Q Mark on a product it means that the product has been produced in accordance with a set of required quality standards.  The flag and the ‘Origin Ireland’ on the mark verify that the product was produced, in its entirety, in Ireland where you see this mark it means that the food was farmed and processed in the Republic of Ireland . There are also marks relating to Northern Ireland and both the Republic and Northern Ireland together.

Bord Bia Logo

Bord Bia Quality Assured Chicken labels on packaging means the meat complies with their food safety, traceability, welfare and production requirements at every stage from the farm to the consumer.  While it is true that most chicken sold is Ireland is conventionally farmed and won’t have the much stricter standards on animal welfare and sourcing of chicken feed of ‘Organic’ or ‘Free Range’ chicken, at least you have assurances on where the animal has travelled from, the use of antibiotics and other food safety standards as well as supporting the Irish farmer. if you can stretch your budget to free range or organic with this mark, then even better!.

Learn to read the label of pre packaged chicken
The origin of the chicken can be checked in a number of ways, firstly through the unique number given to by the Irish Department of Agriculture which is printed on all chicken labels. This number will consist of the letters IE for Ireland followed by a three letter code indicating the unique factory code and then EC indicating that it is part of the EC. So to be sure look for IE XXX EC. The UK will be indicated by UK, FR for France and DE for Germany.

For my overseas readers I guess the important point in all of this is to examine what you are thinking of buying, learn what your country’s food labelling requirements are and if in doubt ask!

Ask your friendly Butcher
Many of us buy our chicken loose at the meat counter in the butchers. I know that I have often forgotten to ask where the chicken comes from – I get caught up in the banter in the butchers and sometimes forget. Most butchers have very high standards and adhere to all the legislation around the labelling of loose chicken, not all are as thorough so remember to ask where the bird is from before you buy.  The law states that loose poultry meat should display the registered number of the slaughterhouse or cutting plant, and in the case of poultry meat imported from third countries( i.e. from outside the EU), an indication of the country of origin. That way if it has travelled from Thailand at least you know before you buy. If you don’t see the information displayed, ask.