White Striping in Chicken

This blog post was originally posted by Janeal Yancey, a Meat Scientist and the blogger of Mom at the Meat Counter. Poultry scientists, Dr. Casey Owens and Dr. Christine Alvarado, helped draft this blog post – and they have been conducting research on the white striping that we sometimes see in chicken breasts. Check out the original blog post, and Janeal’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

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I have recently seen a few social media posts and had a few questions about white striping in chicken breasts. And honestly, I don’t know as much about chicken as I would like to, so I didn’t have very thorough answers to people’s questions.

So, as a scientist, what do I do when I don’t know something? I ask questions and do a little research.

As a mom, when I don’t know something? I ask my friends. Luckily, I have some really smart friends in Poultry Science who know more about chicken than I know about beef.

Dr. Casey Owens and Dr. Christine Alvarado (pics and bios below) are moms and Poultry Scientists who have been conducting research on the white striping that we sometimes see in chicken breasts. I asked them to write a few words for my blog about it.

So today we hear from The Moms at the Poultry Counter!

Dr. Christine Alvarado and Dr. Casey Owens, the Moms at the Poultry Counter

White striping in chicken? What is that and is it harmful? What you need to know from Scientist Moms…..

Recently, I am sure many of you have been hearing about white striping in chicken breast meat – everything from ‘its fine’ to ‘don’t eat the chicken’.  So, we just thought we should clarify some information.  We have conducted scientific research in this particular area and this research may be misrepresented and/or misinterpreted in some cases by the general public. Many of our studies have been written for an audience consisting of scientists and industry in efforts to identify these quality conditions and improve them.

We as moms and scientists want to clarify that white striping in chicken breast meat is absolutely safe to eat – there is no food safety concern. We also wanted to make sure that as moms and scientists, everyone knows we feed chicken breast meat to our own children knowing we have the highest safety and quality standards in the USA.

Now on to the science….. White striping is a quality factor in chicken breast meat caused by deposits of fat in the muscle during the bird’s growth and development (i.e., the bird’s life). In fact, it is similar to marbling in red meat.  Consequently, protein levels decrease slightly as fat increases.  However, white striping can occur in meat in varying quantities (also observed visually).  Meat that we consider to be mild or moderate may have striping that appears as very fines lines.  It isn’t always noticeable or necessarily detracting from its appearance. This level has been observed in chickens for many years; it just isn’t always noticeable.

Normal chicken breast (left) vs. a breast with moderate white striping (right)

The striping we refer to as severe can be more abundant and prominent.  In more recent years, there has been more meat with increased severity of white striping and this is the potential quality issue. With that said, fat is present in any chicken breast meat in low amounts anyway so while there may be a slightly higher fat content in white striped breast fillets when compared to those that aren’t white striped, the overall fat content is still low.  Some references in social media are citing that white striping can increase fat by 224% and we know that sound like a lot, but when starting fat content is only 0.5%, that doesn’t result in much of an increase at all. Other studies state a much lower increase in fat (224% vs 84%); regardless, even a 100% increase would only double the amount (e.g., 0.5 to 1%), still resulting in low fat content.  The same is true for protein though the protein levels generally decrease as white striping increases, but again in very small quantities (2-3% decrease).

So what has changed? Why are we seeing more white striping in chicken meat?

Chickens used in the meat industry are young, but they are now generally growing faster and bigger due to better management, nutrition, animal welfare, and genetics. Therefore, their growth and development is also changing and this can lead to more fat deposits in the meat.  By raising bigger birds, it means that fewer birds can be raised for the same amount of meat and at the same costs, thereby a relatively inexpensive, quality protein can be provided for people to eat.

Another question from consumers is why don’t we just slow the growth down? Slower growing birds are less sustainable and will result in more birds being raised to produce the same amount of meat.  Also slow growing birds and organic birds have white striping as well.  So researchers are working on ways to reduce white striping through different feeds and ways of breeding the chickens.

Our research studies use models to create white striping in the chickens, so we can study it better.  These studies are published to help the industry with improving quality and not to be misinterpreted that this meat is not safe or wholesome.  So, when you read information about white striping in chicken, don’t forget that we are moms and we have confidence that our industry produces a safe and high quality product for consumers.

 Christine Z. Alvarado, Ph.D. and Casey M. Owens, Ph.D.

Dr. Christine Alvarado earned her B.S. in Biomedical Science (’93) and MS and Ph.D. (2001) in Food Science from Texas A&M University. She has been on faculty at Virginia Tech, Texas Tech and is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Poultry Science at Texas A&M University. Dr. Alvarado’s applied national and international research program primarily focuses on improving meat quality and process efficiency for poultry processors and determining functionality of non-meat ingredients used in further processed poultry. Dr. Alvarado also conducts research in food safety with an emphasis on working with processors to evaluate current and new innovative antimicrobial applications for efficacy and cost effectiveness.

Dr. Alvarado is a Novus International Teaching award recipient and currently teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in poultry processing, poultry further processing, an undergraduate capstone poultry science systems course, and a graduate seminar. Dr Alvarado has 5 children, loves to teach students to be agricultural advocates, and loves to help empower students to be better leaders in society.

Dr. Casey Owens received her B.S. degree in Poultry Science and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Food Science and Technology from Texas A&M University in 1994, 1996, and 1999, respectively.  She joined the faculty of the Department of Poultry Science at the University of Arkansas in 2000 and she is currently an Associate Professor and holds the Novus International Professorship of Poultry Science.  She is also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science.  Her research has a strong emphasis on evaluating production and processing factors affecting poultry meat quality including tenderness, water holding capacity, color and sensory attributes.  Her recent research has focused on quality of meat from broilers in big bird market programs including muscle myopathies such as white striping and woody breast, and issues with meat texture.  Past research has included meat tenderness and methods for assessing meat tenderness with the development of the Meullenet Owens Razor Shear, pale, soft, exudative poultry meat, and the use of marination in poultry meat for improved meat quality.  She has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and popular press articles as well as over 100 research abstracts. She has given over 45 invited presentations nationally and internationally. She is a Subject Editor for Poultry Science in the Processing and Products section. In addition to her research, Dr. Owens teaches Egg and Meat Technology and Value Added Muscle Foods at the undergraduate and graduate levels for students in Poultry Science, Food Science, and Animal Science. She also teaches industry workshops related meat and egg processing and further processing. She serves as an undergraduate academic advisor, and Dr. Owens has directed the research of numerous Ph.D. and M.S. graduate students in addition to undergraduate research. Dr. Owens has two children.

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