Some restaurants and take-aways may be serving their customers chicken which only contains 54% chicken, despite labelling that claims a higher meat content, according to a joint investigation by the Food Standards Agency and 22 local authorities across the UK into chicken sold to the catering trade. The survey also revealed that 35 out of the 68 samples were mislabelled.
The five month investigation has led to the publication of a survey today that reveals the actual, rather than the claimed levels, of meat content in chicken breasts sold to the catering trade. Two of the chicken breasts were found to contain pork DNA, indicating the presence of material derived from pork.
The survey tested 68 samples taken from wholesalers and cash and carry stores from around the UK that supply the catering trade. The samples came from processors mainly in the Netherlands but also Belgium, the UK and Spain. In most cases the chicken breasts came from third countries including Brazil and Thailand.
When the chickens breasts arrive in Europe they are processed to include the addition of water, salts, sugars, flavourings and, in some cases, hydrolysed protein before packaging and refreezing. In some cases, these combinations are used to bulk up the chicken breasts and increase their weight. These can also have the effect of retaining the added water in the chicken breast when it is cooked. For example, in the worst case a 100gm portion of chicken breast would become 182gm through these additions. Photographs and full details of the survey are available from www.food.gov.uk.
The FSA received information from local authorities and some parts of the trade earlier this year indicating that hydrolised protein was being used to bulk up chicken breasts. The standard test for water in chicken does not detect water added using this technique. The FSA obtained samples of hydrolised protein and, working with the Laboratory of the Government Chemist clarified which testing methods would uncover water added with the use of these proteins and techniques.
The labelling on the catering packs was misleading in that:
Food Standards Agency chairman Sir John Krebs said today:
" Consumers eating out don't expect their chickens to contain large amounts of added water, nor do they expect their chicken to contain material derived from pork. Customers rely on restaurateurs, who in turn rely on wholesalers and importers to know exactly what it is they are buying and selling. British importers and wholesalers have a responsibility to be vigilant on behalf of the UK consumer. Local authorities have shown that they are able to prosecute where there is evidence of the law being broken. This joint investigation has already shaken this market with some suppliers withdrawing their products and changing their production processes. This survey used good science to crack a difficult investigation. There will be those who will seek to mislead consumers. They need to know that the FSA will work with the relevant authorities througbout Europe to expose them."
The Food Standards Agency has written to the relevant enforcement bodies in the Netherlands and Belgium with the findings of this survey. The Agency has also informed the Consumer Protection Director General of the European Commission, to draw their attention to the findings.
Added water is not in itself necessarily illegal, if the meat and other ingredients are accurately labelled. However the survey reveals that the labelling is often not correct and there is less meat than claimed in many products. In other cases hydrolysed protein was simply not declared. All these practices contravene European labelling law. As none of the samples taken for this survey listed any ingredients derived from pork, the Food Standards Agency also believes that this too is inaccurate labelling
This survey was a follow-up to a survey last year of supermarket and retail chicken and chicken parts. This work has been taken forward by the Food Standards Agency and the 22 local authorities who participated in the surveyed, in co-operation with the Trading Standards Institute. The local authorities involved were: Aberdeen, Bath and North East Somerset, Belfast, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, London Borough of Brent, London Borough of Croydon, Manchester, Newport, Nottingham City, Nottinghamshire, North East Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire, Poole, Sandwell, Tameside, West Yorkshire, Wolverhampton and Worcestershire.