Remember Clara Peller? Some two decades ago, this cranky senior citizen was featured in television commercials for Wendy’s where she criticized competitors’ skimpy hamburgers by shouting “Where’s the beef?” [see commercial]
Well, we may have to contact John Edward (the psychic medium who speaks to the dead) to summon Ms. Peller and have her rephrase the question to “Where’s the ham?”
This package of John Morrell Cooked Ham above was quite a bargain — only $2.50 for a pound. It looks very lean. It says it is 96% fat free. What could be bad?
Under “Cooked Ham” there are more words that finish the actual name of the product: “and Water Product.” And below that is yet a further explanation:
*MOUSE PRINT: “35% of Weight is Added Ingredients”
What’s added? According to the ingredients statement, it also contains water, dextrose, salt, and five types of sodium. But could over one-third of this product really be water and additives? MrConsumer asked John Morrell for an explanation, and got this response:
The ham and water product is 35% added ingredients of ground ham shank and ham. This is not 35% of added “other ingredients” or “water and chemicals”.
Huh? What happened to the water listed right there on the label…twice? So MrConsumer asked how much water was in the product. The response: “Cured in a solution of 79% water.”
We are not making progress. So MrConsumer asked again, “In my package there is 16 oz (1 pound) of ham product. What percentage of the contents of that package is water?” Their response:
You have 1# of meat as the pkg states. When the ham is processed and cured it will weigh more then 1#. It is allowed to “drain” until the ideal weight of 1# is reached. So the meat is 1# but the solution is drained to get to that weight. Does that make since now?
No, it still doesn’t make sense, so MrConsumer thought he should consult the Department of Agriculture which probably had a standard of identity for “Cooked Ham and Water Product.” (A standard of identity sets out a legal definition of what has to be in a food product to use a particular product description.)
As it turns out, cooked ham can be sold under four different names: “cooked ham”, “cooked ham with natural juices”, “cooked ham, water added”, and “cooked ham and water product — x% of weight is added ingredients.” As you go down the list of names, less and less real meat protein (“minimum meat PFF percentage”) has to be in the product. For cooked ham and water product, the minimum meat PFF is less than 17%. [See: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/9CF319.html ]
The technical definition of PFF is quite complex, so MrConsumer asked the Department of Agriculture to put it in plain English and indicate whether the “less than 17%” rule meant the product could really have less than 17% ham. The answer from the USDA (received seven weeks after asking):
The protein fat free percentage (PFF) is the meat protein content indigenous to the raw, unprocessed pork cut expressed as a percent of the non-fat portion of the finished product. The number “17” refers to the percent meat protein (determined by Laboratory analysis) that is present in the non-fat portion of the finished product. This number does not denote the amount of real ham in a product.
Got it? MrConsumer still doesn’t and he gives up.
So let’s toast Clara Peller with some ham flavored water at being much better at getting answers to “where’s the beef” than MrConsumer is about finding out “where’s the ham.”