Gobbler Gab: What You Need to Know About Turkeys

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/j_benson/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/j_benson/

The Butterball hotline was a classic moment on The West Wing, in which fictional President Josiah Bartlet calls Butterball to settle a turkey-cooking dispute. One question was answered, but what about where the turkey came from, why it’s labeled how it is, and what about the costs associated with raising different types of turkeys?

First up, labeling. The terms printed on the packaging have to follow U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, and they are subject to federal regulations like a ban on the use of hormones in all poultry.

To be considered “fresh,” turkeys in this category cannot be stored at temperatures colder than 26 degrees Fahrenheit; they have to be “quick chilled” to somewhere between 26 and 40 degrees. The birds need to be refrigerated and used one to two days after purchase. Frozen turkeys are stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and are rapidly frozen in a blast freezer for the highest level of safety.

For free-range and free-roaming birds, information about the housing conditions are provided when producers apply to use the “free-range” or “free-roaming” label. For 51 percent of their lives, the birds need to have continuous, uninterrupted access to the outdoors. Producers in Northern, harsh-winter climates are allowed to keep the turkeys in a coop during the winter, but they must state their location for this to be approved.