Americans are eating more chicken. The United States Department of Agriculture thinks this makes a good reason for people to learn more about how to shop for this familiar food. It offers a few suggestions: Consider first the freshness by looking for the dates on the label such as the ``sell by'' or ``use by'' dates. Although this is not required for chicken, many retailers supply the information.
A ``sell by'' date -- the last day a store should sell a product -- is the date most often found on poultry labels.
The ``use by'' date tells how long a product will retain top eating quality after it is bought.
The Department of Agriculture recommends that you select a bird that is chilled and that has been stored at 40 degrees F. or below.
The partially frozen chicken you find at the supermarkets is considered fresh chicken. Processors quickly chill fresh poultry and then store it at 28 to 32 degrees F.
Often ice crystals form in the surface tissue of the chicken, but this process prevents rapid growth of bacteria and increases the shelf life of poultry. Partially frozen poultry can be cooked immediately or stored in the freezer for later use.
The USDA recommends storing chicken in the refrigerator at 40 degrees F. and using it within one or two days after purchase.
Frozen poultry properly wrapped in a moisture- and vaporproof material will keep for a year in a 0 degree F. freezer. Longer storage might result in loss of quality, but the poultry would still be safe to eat. -- P. H.