“Natural Chicken” Pumped with Water and Sodium

When we buy unprepared chicken, we like to think we’re getting just chicken. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. A recent article in the LA Times sheds some light on the practice of injecting raw chicken with saltwater solutions during processing:

Major producers who inject their products with saltwater solutions say it makes for tastier, juicier meat. Other producers promote their products as free of the additive and say that the practice is deceptive.

Raw chicken breast can contain as little as 50 to 75 milligrams of sodium per 4-ounce serving. But much of the chicken on the market in the U.S. is “enhanced” — injected with a salt solution, or broth, during processing. Sodium levels often reach well over 400 milligrams per serving — nearly one-third of the maximum daily intake of 1500 milligrams recommended for people at risk of high blood pressure (including African Americans and older adults).

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What you need to know:

This practice has been going on since the 1970′s. Processors use special equipment to inject the chicken with a saltwater broth and binders that enhance its flavor. Apparently, adding salt at home is no match for this technology.

The Truthful Labeling Coalition, is a lobbying group of poultry producers that don’t enhance their products. They’ve been pushing the USDA to change its policy, currently allowing up to 15% of the product sold to us as chicken to be salty water.

Manufacturers who do add sodium claim that this is what consumers want. Clearer labeling would probably help consumers better understand what they are buying.  But this is not something the injecting processors would like to do.

What to do at the supermarket:

Read the fine print on the label. If it says “enhanced with broth” or something similar, this means it could contain up to 15% water and a whole lot of sodium you don’t want. You get punished twice – paying for chicken and getting water, and the excess sodium.