On tonight's menu, chemical-soaked chicken
When you open a package of "fresh" supermarket chicken, the first thing you probably notice -- besides the chicken -- is the liquid oozing out of it, the chemicals in food.
It's not chicken blood, even if it might be pink-ish in color. It's not chicken "juice" either.
In most cases, it's what's left of factory processing -- because after slaughter, U.S. chickens are sprayed with and even soaked in water that contains chemicals such as chlorine and peracetic acid.
And under proposed new USDA rules to allow for faster and more efficient processing, chicken meat could be exposed to even higher levels, which means more chemicals in food.
The soaks and rinses are supposed to help clean the chickens as they whizz by on the factory line, killing bacteria and rinsing off fecal matter and other filth. But it's not exactly doing a bang-up job. Recent tests found germs -- including drug-resistant superbugs -- on 39 percent of supermarket chicken samples.
And along with not killing germs, the chemicals in food could be doing a number on your health. Factory workers are reporting asthma, burns, rashes, and more from working with these chemicals, and there's been at least one death linked to their use in poultry processing.
The USDA says it doesn't know what the safe level of exposure is for food -- that's for the FDA to decide. The FDA says the amounts used in poultry processing are perfectly safe -- but that's not based on independent research.
That's based on data provided by the chemical companies.
This means you should make it your goal to find chickens that have been treated with the least amount of chemicals possible -- or, better yet, none at all.
And that's no easy task.
Buying organic can reduce the risk, but it's no guarantee of an untreated chicken. For now, you can look for "air chilled" chickens, which hung in cold rooms after being sprayed instead of left to soak in chemicals baths leaving traces of chemicals in food. As a result, they may have lower residual levels.
However, under the newly proposed rules, air-chilled chickens could get sprayed with more chemicals, so they may not be the safer option for much longer.
Short of raising chickens yourself, your best bet is to buy organic chicken direct from a small poultry farm or from a butcher who can tell you about the chickens and how they're treated and prepared.
I'm not done with shopping advice just yet -- keep reading for the best way to approach the supermarket.