13 September, 2008

Enhanced Meat

How closely do you read the labels in your supermarket? I read everything - especially the first time I buy something. I want to know what's in it, and whether there's something hidden in there that I refuse to buy (high fructose corn syrup, for example.)

I check the Country of Origin labels on seafood and produce, and I check cuts of meat carefully to be sure the store isn't getting deceptively clever when they put the label on the package. But now I find I have to look for fine print on nearly every branded piece of meat I buy.

Why? Because the major packing companies are all "enhancing" their meat - especially pork and turkey, but beef and chicken too - by injecting it full of specially-formulated saltwater. Sometimes, the meat you buy can be twelve percent added water - quite the profit engine for Hormel and Smithfield, when they can charge consumers upwards of $20.00 a gallon for water (which probably costs them less than half a buck per thousand gallons.)

The meat industry will tell you that they need to enhance their product because health-conscious shoppers demand leaner cuts. Without tasty saline solution pumped into the meat to replace the missing fat, they say that meat often comes out dry, tough, and flavorless. Water and salt is a cheap way for the meat packing companies to "help" people have juicier cuts of pork, beef, and chicken.

But if you believe that they're doing it for any other reason than profit, look at this:

I would love to hear Hormel's explanation for why ground pork - which is already tender thanks to the grinding process and "juicy" thanks to the fat content - needs to be pumped up with saltwater to "improve" the tenderness and juicyness. (Twelve percent is actually pretty low for a Hormel product. Some of their Jenny-O brand turkey cuts and other Hormel pork products have been pumped up with 30 percent water!)

Thanks, Whore-Mel, but I'll brine my own meat.

Every major packing company is doing this. Most of them have special brand names for their enhanced products:
  • John Morrell Tender N Juicy
  • Hormel Always Tender
  • Farmland Extra Tender
  • Smithfield Lean Generation
  • Purdue Tender & Tasty
But regardless of whether or not these tampered-with meats have a special brand identity, Federal law requires that they be clearly labeled on the package with information such as the percentage of "enhancement" added and the ingredients.

The only way we, as consumers, have of fighting this trend is through our wallets. Read the labels and refuse to buy enhanced meat. And, because some supermarkets are buying enhanced meats and repackaging them without the labels, ask the butchers at your local markets if the meat they are selling is enhanced. And don't be afraid to report violations of the labeling law to the USDA.


TastyNewEngland said...

This stuff drives me crazy and I try to avoid it like the plague. One of my favorite things in the world is a simple roast chicken and it weirds me out to see all of these chickens wrapped in plastic and suspended in a pillow of...liquid. Really gross. Not to mention it just sucks all the joy out of cooking it, the whole point for me is taking a bird and turning it into something insanely tasty and starting with something all gooped up in a factory just ruins it for me.

Jude said...

Had no idea even ground pork is getting pumped full of brine. That's just ridiculous.

Alex Rushmer said...

wrong wrong wrong wrong. Just plain wrong.

abadeeba said...

Whore-mel. Well said.