The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has carried out an exploratory study into injection powders used to retain water in chicken breast products supplied mainly to the catering trade.
Water can be added to chicken products by manufacturers for a number of reasons, for example to improve the succulence of the meat, says the FSA. Adding water to chicken is permitted, but where the water content is greater than 5%, water must be declared in the name of the food and listed as an ingredient. Fresh chicken meat that you buy from supermarkets or butchers cannot have any ingredients, including water, deliberately added to it.
The agents used to hold added water in chicken can include salt, phosphates and hydrolysed animal proteins; these are supplied to manufacturers in mixtures as injection powders. When water retaining agents are used, they must be described accurately on the label.
The FSA’s snapshot study looked at a small number of injection powders that claimed to contain only chicken protein. Analysis using a new approach developed under the Agency’s authenticity programme indicated that proteins from beef or pork were also present in some of the samples. Hydrolysed pork and beef proteins can be used as water retaining agents in chicken as long as they are properly labelled. The use of these proteins does not make chicken products unsafe, but it is important that people are given accurate information about their food.
There is no evidence to suggest that there is a widespread problem with undeclared proteins in chicken products but the Agency is carrying out further studies and gathering more information in partnership with other European Member States.
If you choose not to eat pork or beef you may wish to avoid chicken that contains hydrolysed animal proteins, says the FSA. If you are eating food from a restaurant or takeaway, you should ask if the chicken contains hydrolysed animal proteins. Restaurants and catering establishments will have this information available to them as it will be on the ingredients list of the products they buy.
More on the study
This small study was the first time this new approach has been used to look at the proteins used as water-retaining agents in injection powders. The FSA is working with researchers to establish what further work needs to be done to enable this cutting edge method to be used for routine analysis. The Agency is also considering what further surveys and enforcement activities will allow us, and enforcement authorities, to continue to monitor this issue.