Survey finds branded meat products pumped full of water

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Meat, Pork

Consumers are likely to react badly to a new UK survey of processed
meats, which found that trusted companies such as Bernard Matthews,
Mattessons and Ye Olde Oak sell meat products that contain an
estimated 10 to 20 per cent added water, writes Anthony
Fletcher.

One extreme example was a can of Ye Olde Oak ham, found to be just 55 per cent meat padded out with water, along with 'pork protein' (gelatine), salt, sugar and five additives.

The survey found added water in bacon, ham, chicken, lamb, turkey, sausages and hot dogs. The water is added by soaking, tumbling and even injection, and typically held in place by phosphate additives or other ingredients such as starch or gelatine.

Other examples from the UK Food Commission's Food Magazine​ survey included Bernard Matthews Wafer Thin American Fried Chicken that was just 62 per cent meat; ASDA 'traditional style' Irish recipe sausages that were only 37 per cent meat; Ye Olde Oak Hot Dogs that contained less than 50 per cent meat (49 per cent chicken and pork, excluding added collagen and fat) and lamb and turkey 'ham', both made by Bernard Matthews, which were 86 per cent meat and 60 per cent meat respectively.

The ingredients lists showed that all of these products were pumped up with added water.

"Many shoppers are unaware that processed meats can contain anything from 10 per cent to 30 pre cent added water,"​ said Ian Tokelove, spokesperson for the Food Commission.

However a Food and Drink Federation (FDF) spokesperson stressed that manufacturers are legally allowed to add water in processed meat products.

"Added water can be an essential part of the production process and can be necessary to retain flavours and succulence to ensure that the product is acceptable to consumers,"​ said the spokesperson. "The food manufacturing industry is currently working with the Food Standards Agency on labelling guidelines in this area."

But others believe that manufacturers are exploiting holes in the current regulations. The Food Commission says that although companies are required to declare added water, they don't have to say how much.

"The information given on the labels is inconsistent, sometimes hard to find, and often very confusing. The water won't harm you, but do you really want to spend your hard-earned cash on watered-down ham and soggy sausages?"

Consumers have become much more concerned about the content of packaged food, and such surveys can do brands a great deal of damage in terms of lost trust. In addition, consumers do not like to feel that they are being ripped off - Shropshire County Council's trading standards service revealed last year that raw pork with added water was being sold alongside genuine uncooked pork, often at a premium price.

This brought an angry response from both consumers and food campaigners. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised,"​ Jeanette Longfield, co-ordinator of Sustain (alliance for Better Food and Farming) told FoodProductionDaily.com at the time. "But I would have thought that after the scandal of water in chicken, the industry would have been concerned to keep up high standards. I have to say my heart sank when I heard about the report."

Longfield pointed out that people are already distrustful of the industry following outbreaks highly publicised outbreaks of disease. "Consumers must be thinking: 'whatever next?' It is also bad news for good manufacturers, and farmers must be despairing."

Last year supermarket giant Tesco confirmed in the UK's Guardian that it had been injecting its "Finest" pork for about three years. "The water isn't injected to add weight or dupe customers,"​ spokesman Steve Gracey told the newspaper. "It is added to improve eating quality."

"I don't know about you, but generally speaking I don't inject my meat with water,"​ responded Longfield.

It is legal for companies to add water to any food, including meat, up to a level of 5 per cent, without declaring this on the label. If a company adds more than five per cent water to meat (or 10 per cent water for bacon and gammon) then they must state on the label that the product contains added water.

The law also requires companies to declare the percentage of meat in a meat product (called the Quantitative Ingredient Declaration or QUID), helping consumers to compare products and see if they are getting value for money. However, the law does not require companies to tell their customers how much water has been added.

The UK Food Commission​ survey found that 'added water' declarations are usually made in small print, and that some companies, such as Bernard Matthews, placed the declaration on the back of packets. Only a few products, such as Sainsbury's 'Basics' Cooked Ham, gave information about the percentage of added water, clearly declared on the front of the pack.

The Food Commission's survey was published in issue 69 of the Food Magazine​. The Food Commission is an independent body that campaigns on food safety and health issues in the UK.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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