Last updated on 12 March 2003
Water in chicken - your questions answered
Surveillance work carried out by the Agency last year showed that some chicken intended for use by caterers and takeaways had ingredients added to it that were not clearly identified on the label. All suppliers of this type of chicken were reminded of their legal obligations to label it correctly. This exercise carried out by the Agency and local authorities is a follow-up to that work. It is also intended to give local authorities the evidence they need to consider formal enforcement action.
The survey shows that the labelling of these products has not improved.
- 15 out of 25 claimed to have a higher meat content than was actually true
- 12 tested positive for non-chicken DNA (11 for pork and 1 for pork and beef DNA) - 11 of these were labelled as halal
- 18 used the term ‘fillet’ or ‘breast’ – these are legal terms that can only be used for chicken with no added ingredients
The water is added to the chicken to ‘bulk it up’, making it appear larger and heavier than it really is. And it can also help to prevent the meat drying out when it is transported and stored. Other ingredients, such as animal protein, are often added to help the meat retain the water, even after cooking.
Not all the chicken used by the catering industry has added ingredients. This type of chicken accounts for about 10% of all chicken used in the catering market in the UK (60,000 tonnes).
The fresh chicken pieces you buy from supermarkets are covered by very specific regulations and should not have any ingredients added to them.
Processed chicken products, such as chicken burgers and nuggets, bought from the supermarket might contain added water and other ingredients, but these should be clearly marked on the label.
It is legal to add water and other ingredients, such as animal protein, to chicken, as long as the products are properly labelled. However the problem with some of the chicken products tested is that they are not labelled accurately, which misleads the consumer, and this is illegal.
People don’t need to avoid chicken from restaurants and takeaways for safety reasons. The issue that has been identified by this research is consumers being misled by incorrect labelling.
The source of the bovine material was identified as being from collagen protein. The European Scientific Committee concluded that the parts of the hide used for the production of collagen do not present a risk with regard to BSE, provided contamination is avoided.
All bovine material should have been subject to European-wide BSE controls, the same controls that apply to all beef products. Therefore, provided these controls have been applied, any traces of beef that may be in other products would not raise any new food safety concerns.
The Agency has been working with authorities both in the UK and in Europe to put pressure on manufacturers to improve the labelling of these products.
Using the results in this latest enforcement exercise, local authorities will be considering what formal action to take against wholesalers who supply this chicken.
I only eat halal meat - does this mean that I could have eaten pork or beef when I’ve chosen chicken in a restaurant or from a takeaway?
It is possible that chicken you have eaten may have contained some proteins from pork or beef. The simplest way to avoid eating added protein in chicken is to avoid chicken with added water – if you are concerned you should check with the owner/manager.
If you don’t want to supply chicken that contains added ingredients, such as pork or beef, the simplest way to do so is to avoid buying chicken with added water. You should certainly avoid the brands identified in this survey as containing undeclared pork or beef.
The products should be labelled in accordance with the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, as amended.
- All the ingredients used in a product must be listed.
- Pre-packed products that have a type of meat in the name (such as ‘chicken’ or ‘meat pie’) must also say what percentage of the product is made up of this meat.
- The name used for the product must clearly distinguish it from other similar products.
The phrases ‘chicken breast’ and ‘chicken fillet’ are legal names under the Poultrymeat Marketing Regulations, and can only be used when the product meets the requirements of the Regulations. This means that a product that contains added water and other ingredients must not be called ‘chicken breast’ or ‘chicken fillet’ unless the packaging also states the added ingredients.