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.