Are You Buying Meat But Paying for Salt Water?

There’s a dirty little secret that not many grocery shoppers are aware of. Many times, cuts of poultry, pork and meat are “enhanced” with a liquid solution that is essentially water and salt. And we’re paying for this added weight without even knowing it.

This practice has been going on since the 1970’s. Poultry processors, for example, use special equipment to inject chicken with a saltwater broth and binders that enhance its flavor. Hundreds of tiny needles inject a single chicken passing through a conveyer belt. Apparently, adding salt at home is no match for this technology.

Manufacturers who add sodium and water claim that this is what consumers want. But the difference in sodium per serving can be staggering – 500mg of sodium per serving vs. just 75mg unsalted!

Not to mention the fact that we’re paying extra money for saltwater.

The worst part is that consumers don’t always know if the chicken breast they are about to purchase is “enhanced” or not. This is because there are no strict labeling requirements in this matter.

Clearer labeling would help consumers better understand what they are buying.  But this is not something the injecting processors would like to do, for obvious reasons. The Truthful Labeling Coalition, a lobbying group of poultry producers that don’t enhance their products, has been pushing the USDA to demand strict labeling on this matter.

The good news is that the USDA seems to be listening. Yesterday, FSIS (the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA) announced Proposed Rules etter Label Raw Meat and Poultry Containing Added Solutions. From the USDA announcement:

FSIS has determined that some labels do not clearly identify if a solution has been added to a raw product to enhance flavor or texture. As a result, consumers may be purchasing raw meat and poultry products with higher sodium content than they realize. The agency invites comments on the proposed rule, which is intended to clarify these products’ labels so consumers can easily distinguish them from raw meat and poultry that do not contain added solutions.

“Consumers should be able to make an informed choice in the store, which is why we need to provide clear, informative labels that will help consumers make the best decisions about feeding their families,” said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. “It has become evident that some raw meat and poultry labels, even those that follow our current guidelines, may not be clear.”

When will we see revised lables in supermarkets? It will take some time, as comments have to be made, opposing voices heard, lobbies heard again, etc…

What to do in the meantime at the supermarket:

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

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  • Emily

    I’ve long been seething about this practice (and it’s not just chicken, watch your bigger pork cuts, too).  We’re on the kind of budget where every penny is counted, so paying $1.79 lb for salt water makes me grit my teeth.  If you can’t afford local, free-range meat, the best bet I’ve found is to support a local butcher instead of the megamarts.  Their quality is generally better, the price should be competitive, and you’ll be supporting your community.  Oh, and you’ll be eating less salt water solution.  :D

  • Karyn

    I’ve also noticed that a lot of meats that at first glance just look like cuts of meat, especially ground meat or frozen meat patties, are not just plain meat but have “natural flavoring” added to them.  What?!  Why is that necessary?  Most people add their own flavoring when they prepare their food.  I’m fortunate to have a good co-op within walking distance of where I live, but it’s ridiculous that the average person can’t just go to any old local grocery store and get additive-free plain old meat

    By the way, I also noticed this with store brand canned beans:  in addition to the usual suspects, some of them had “natural flavoring” added to supposedly PLAIN beans.  Yes, I will use canned beans for speed and convenience, but if it’s anything other than beans, water, and maybe salt, I won’t buy.

  • Mr. Bill

    Brining can truely do wonders to food. Particularly lean cuts of pork and chicken. However, I prefer to do this myself to control the flavor. All I want is a list of ingredients.

    This practice wasn’t helped by consumer demands for leaner meat several decades ago. Pork producers responded by breeding leaner pigs and mutant large breasted chickens. Well, a lean pork chops and gaint chicken breasts are near impossible to cook with out making them dry as a bone.

    • Fooducate

      Good point. With respect to poultry – bigger isn’t always better tasting…

  • Michele Hays

    FYI – “pre-brined” or similar labels allow for an even higher proportion of saltwater to be added to your fresh meat.  I wish that labeling would solve the problem – however, it’s significantly difficult to find, for instance, a turkey that hasn’t had a solution added, even with the “enhanced” label.  I’d like to see regulation requiring the producers to discount the weight of the added water.  

    Usually, this appears in products that are sold fully wrapped in sealed packaging with the metal closure or vacuum-sealed (it’s less likely in the styro-tray-shrink-wrapped meats.)

  • Guest.

    I keep my eye out on the ads at our local whole foods and plan my grocery shopping based on their sales. I love to take advantage of their early bird saturday specials and their friday one day sales…and we too are on a tight budget but decided it was time to change from Safeway to Whole Foods and invest in our kids’ health and futures after one of them was hospitalized twice. It seems to work – we might not have a huge stock of groceries, but we’re never hungry.

  • Lisa

    Thanks for sharing about this with us! One of my blog readers told me about your website…I appreciate knowing about what you are doing!

  • Lisa

    Thanks for sharing about this with us! One of my blog readers told me about your website…I appreciate knowing about what you are doing!

  • Sandhillsue

    Thank you for this!  I am a 70-yr-old who has been trying to eat a heart healthy diet, and also am on low sodium for high blood pressure.  Here I was eating chicken breasts because I thought they were better for me!  This old lady will really be checking my meats out from now on!

  • Caraline

    omg thats wrong, especially on a health issue. How many people are told to reduce their salt intake and cut back on eating red meat. So while you think its healthy to have a chicken you are literally being given a heart attack without know it….Stop this practice.  Thankfully I dont eat chicken as Im allergic to eggs.

  • Kara

    I’ll stop buying meat until they label everything. I get diarrhea when enhanced meat. That really pisses me off, they need to label everything…

  • Teaexis

    It’s all enhanced.  And in the last two years they’ve added preservatives which makes it taste strange.

  • WildGorgh

    Until people organize and demand to get what they are paying for nothing would ever happen

  • WildGorgh

    These kinna practice amount to stealing food from my child launch

  • Stan Williams

    I almost died from that because I didn’t know that they did this!
    I had gotten out of hospital for high blood pressure, my sister cooked a raw from the grocery a turkey, we had no idea that some *&%$#% would fill it full of salt! I Learned the hard way!, it even made her have a salty taste in her mouth for several days she said. If I hadn’t had a salty taste in my mouth and stopped eating it when I did…

    I have alot of trouble finding anything I can eat anymore!

  • pick

    This is robbery and poison. Capitalists are greedy evil toads and they need to be deprived of the “oxygen of our money” – buy something else instead and leave them to crash and burn. The whole capitalist world needs to die. God hates cheats, robbers and murderers which is what capitalists are.

  • Craig Crestford

    I think the customers do like it that way. That’s how my familly enjoys their meat and fruits and veggies. Apples as big as a basketball that taste extra watery bought in ginormoeconosize from a warehouse with minimal employees. Plump, gross tasting rubbery chicken pieces that last a month… Food with no texture. The sad fact is most people firmly believe this is “good” and “honest” food and buying small portions or from a small butcher is a “rip-off”. I mean, just put more salt on that inflated garbage and it nearly has a flavor then stuff yourself with chips from a megasized bag. That’s how the majority feeds themselves.