Consumers Get Their Fill--of Chicken Breasts
By Sharon Durham
September 6, 2001
It may sound simple, but it can be
tricky making sure that every four-pound bag of poultry parts contains at least
Thats because of natural variations in size that occur, despite the
best efforts of todays broiler growers to produce a uniform product. Not
all chicken breasts or legs are the same size or weight. And this variability
poses something of a problem to poultry wholesalers intent on streamlining
operations in order to put affordable meat on the tables of millions of
consumers. The recent trend has been away from unit pricing that charges so
much per pound, toward a system called minimum weight pricing, or MWP.
Louis L. Young, an Agricultural Research
Service food scientist based at ARS
Richard B. Russell Research
Center in Athens, Ga., recognized the huge task poultry wholesalers face.
Approximately 8 billion broiler chickens are raised each year in the United
States. While some of this meat gets packaged for high-end markets as skinned,
boned, pre-sliced chicken for stir-fry, much is sold simply prepacked in
parts--as drumsticks, thighs, wings or breasts--and sold by MWP.
Young was curious about the exact weight of this prepackaged poultry. He
knew that in order to hit the stated weight minimum, it is often necessary to
overfill the packages, because you cant simply add half a leg or part of
a breast to make the weight exact. And he knew that the overfill sometimes
reaches as much as 13 percent above the stated minimum.
So Young developed a statistical modeling approach to minimize the amount of
underfill--or overfill--that occurs with unevenly sized food products such as
poultry parts. This helps ensure that both the wholesaler and consumer get
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.