The chickens will finally come in from the cold.
Starting next December, supermarket chickens can carry the "fresh" label only if they have never been chilled below 26 degrees, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a final rule published Tuesday.
The rule ends a long dispute that pitted California poultry producers and consumer groups against the majority of broiler makers in Arkansas and the rest of the South. Before the rule, chickens could be labeled "fresh" even if they had been chilled to nearly 0 degrees.
Poultry below zero must be labeled "frozen."
There is no special labeling for chicken between 0 and 26 degrees Fahrenheit, but a description may not be misleading, says the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
At 26 degrees, chickens begin to get hard to the touch. At zero, they're frozen throughout.
The final rule, first proposed in August 1995, was delayed by the Senate, which most recently objected to the requirement that chickens between 26 degrees and 0 degrees be labeled "hard-chilled" or "previously hard-chilled."
The Senate, in its 1997 spending bill, stripped that requirement. The Senate also said the rules must allow a tolerance so some of the chickens may reach 24 degrees during distribution--but the shipment must average 26 degrees.