Green muscle disease happens in chickens or turkeys due to inadequate blood supply to the breast muscle tissue. Credit: Courtesy of Shayla Stevens

When it comes to chicken or turkey meat, most people have a preference between dark and white. But there can be a third color option that, while infrequent, is very real.

It’s green.

Green meat happens in birds that have deep pectoral myopathy, or green muscle disease. When present, it’s visible in both raw and cooked meat.

Also called Oregon disease, an inadequate blood supply to the deep muscles around a meat variety bird’s breast causes those muscles to turn green.

According to Dr. Colt Knight, state livestock specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension, injured birds of the larger broiler varieties that were not getting enough exercise are susceptible to green muscle disease. The larger varieties grow fast and don’t fly, Knight said, so they don’t have very strong muscles

“If something comes along and causes a trauma like the bird gets kicked, dropped or attacked by a predator or in an extreme circumstance tries to fly and flaps its wing too hard, they can tear or damage muscle tissue,” Knight said.

The injuries occur in the part of the bird’s breast often called the “tender” — which is a muscle attached to the breast tissue.

“Once damaged, the muscle does not heal well because of reduced blood flow,” Knight said. “That muscle tissue is going to become dead or dying tissue and rot and create necrotic lesions and that is where the green is coming from.”

Green muscle disease can happen in both commercially raised and farm raised birds but it’s not posing a rampant problem, Knight said. The green meat is typically removed in the butchering process.

“Technically you could eat the green meat as long as it is cooked without negative effects to human health,” Knight said. “But I’d worry if for some reason the bird had also developed an abscess.”

An abscess — a puss-filled pocket formed by bacteria — could contain toxins that remain even after the meat is cooked. Those, Knight said, could cause a human health issue.

“If I had one of those chickens I’d just cut off the side that had the green meat and eat the rest of the chicken,” Knight said. “I would not eat that nasty side. Some people might, but I would not.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.