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November 3, 2008

Where’s the Beef Pork?

Filed under: Business,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:40 am

It has been years since Clara Peller famously questioned one of Wendy’s fast food competitors in a TV commercial about the skimpy size of their hamburgers.  She shouted “Where’s the beef?” Well, we may have to call Ms. Peller back into action (from the hereafter), but this time the issue is pork.

We don’t usually think of fresh pork, such as pork chops, being sold under a brand name, but in some supermarkets you can actually find some packages with a Swift Premium label.


While it might seem advantageous to be able to buy a brand name of pork, the fine print suggests otherwise.


“with up to 10% of a solution of water, salt, and sodium phosphate”

Why has the company added up to 10% water to the pork chops besides the fact that selling a package that is 90% pork and 10% water is probably more profitable than selling one that is 100% pork?

The company replied:

“The hogs we use are bred and fed to be much leaner today, and are trimmed so there is very little external fat. We add a little extra moisture to our pork, so that consumers can be assured of the juicy tender and flavorful product.

The supermarket selling it replied:

“The product is enhanced with a solution of water, salt/spices.  This ensures a uniform flavor and moisture level, while providing a consistent eating experience for the consumer.   The practice of selling enhanced product is in accordance with USDA guidelines, and the font of the print is governed by USDA as well.” 

I don’t want to pay $2.99 a pound for water.  For one, if I want water with my pork, I’ll grab a glass and get it from the tap.

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  1. The company’s response does have a hint of truth to it. In response to health fads of the last few decades, hogs have been bred for absurdly lean meat. Most supermarket pork needs to have flavor and moisture added to make it palatable.

    Comment by cmadler — November 3, 2008 @ 9:28 am
  2. Good luck, just about any package of meat you pick up nowadays has this, especially chicken.

    Comment by rahlquist — November 3, 2008 @ 9:29 am
  3. In addition to what was already stated, this is also a requirement from the FDA (in the form of a pseudo-preservative), since it is ‘pre-packaged’ and not in ‘butcher-style’. This is the sad truth about our foods and why so many are turning towards the Organic market… the US government require, in my words, crap to be put into our food. It’s disgusting, and appalling, but more a moral issue with out elected officials than a Mouse Print issue… after all, this is actually normal policy, found virtually EVERYWHERE, and I wouldn’t call it misleading.

    Comment by J. — November 3, 2008 @ 10:13 am
  4. One of the biggest hurdles that serious dieters have to overcome is the hidden additives in their food. Try buying poultry—especially whole birds—that hasn’t been injected with dextrose and water. Just what we need in the most obese nation on the planet: sugar injected into our meat! And I imagine that hypertensives have the same issues with the injected salt.

    Yes, fine, they want us to have juicier, more tender meat. Nice goal and all, but giving me diabetes and high blood-pressure is not an acceptable side effect. Why not just give us real food, and let us decide if we want to trim off the fat and brine the stuff? I’m a big girl—I can make decisions like that for myself! I don’t need some big corporation or the USDA deciding for me.

    Comment by Editormum — November 3, 2008 @ 11:42 am
  5. This is a sticky subject. For one because it is a plausible reason that they was flavor consistency, and need to add flavored water (marination) to the meat. You can wonder whether it is normal that all your food tastes the same, but thank McD for that idea. On the other hand, there is the sticky debate of how much water there ‘normally’ is in a piece of meat. Meat gets washed between being an animal and nicely packaged. Does an industry need to pad that water off? Or is it just fair that they note it on the package? The argument of keeping the meat most also makes sense.

    The main question though is whether you really need 10% water to do all these things, or whether 2% would do, an dproducers add the other 8% just to fill their pockets.

    I have nooo clue.

    Comment by Jasper — November 3, 2008 @ 12:58 pm
  6. “with up to 10% of a solution of water, salt, and sodium phosphate”

    We may need to look up this phrasing, it may be required by the FDA for anything 1%-10% of the solution. I was looking through the lunchmeat ham at the store the other day (have looked closely since I read a *Mouseprint months back about Ham and Water Product) and noticed that nothing had anything less than the same 10% disclaimer.

    Makes me wonder if this is a case of government mandated wording that can make things sound worse than they are.

    Comment by Chris S — November 3, 2008 @ 3:09 pm
  7. This new practice is disgusting. Take a look at the sodium content of any of these “enhanced” foods. I remember when I was young, my mother cooking chicken, pork, etc. (i’m talking in the 70’s) and it all tasted just fine, thank you. Furthermore, the meats had distincly different flavors. Today it IS all the same. Partly because Americans have been trained to “want” it that way. Full of salt and sugar… I REALLY like the packages that say “enhanced with up to 12% of a solution” OF WHAT??????????? As previous comments mention, everyone wants the population to watch salt intake, but it is made nearly impossible. I REFUSE to buy any meats with “solutions”. Too bad they don’t concentrate on making better foods, not how to get away with selling water for $4 a pound.

    Comment by george love — November 3, 2008 @ 3:50 pm
  8. Thank goodness I still live in a place where I can get fresh butchered meats instead of that prepackaged crap.

    My friend once did an experiment with the two types of meat (prepackaged vacuum sealed and a freah butcher wrap), and left them on the counter. TWO days later the prepackaged vacuum sealed was STILL RED. Where is the indication that this meat is obviously rancid?!?!?!?!

    Comment by ajewel — November 3, 2008 @ 4:39 pm
  9. What we accept, companies will continue to produce : )

    The pork and chicken usually on sale at a good price come with the solution I’ve found.

    We have Sprouts here in AZ and they advertise no solutions, so the clue here is to buy when those meats are on sale.

    Also, Albertson’s has had pork (10-13pounds)which they slice into chops at the store and therefore no solution.

    More Mouseprint to grocers might give us more choices !

    Comment by mari — November 3, 2008 @ 9:27 pm
  10. Not only are the pre-packaged meat sold now have 10% water, in that mix is a LOT of sodium. Combine that with pork being salty naturally, anyone that is hypertensive has to really read the labels and percentage of sodium in any prepared or processed food.

    Comment by doris dzirson — November 3, 2008 @ 9:54 pm
  11. The leaner hog is definitely true, so true that even organizations/magazines like Cook’s Illustrated recommend the process of brining (soaking the pork in a mixture of water, salt and/or sugar). This process also works for some poultry, too. They also actually sampled the enhanced pork and found them to be inferior in taste and texture to a home brined product, plus no sodium phosphate! So don’t slam the fact that they brine it, but do for the fact that they effectively charge a 10% premium.

    Always buy your meat at a butcher that you trust, and try to avoid prepackaged meat of any kind*. If you don’t like the fat/flavor, then brine it. You’ll be surprised.

    *If you want more reasons why, see the Good Eats episode on hams, where they go into all the different levels of FDA approved nomenclature for ham based on water vs. actual ham content.

    Comment by Josh — November 4, 2008 @ 12:24 am
  12. The article discusses the addition of 10% water. Is that by volume or weight? It seems that most are assuming that it means 10% by weight, but is it possible that that it is 10% by volume? When the percentage is calculated on volume it is possible that the percentage compared to weight is greater than 10%?

    As Josh recommends, I’ll be on the look out for the Good Eats episode on hams.

    Comment by Richard B. — November 4, 2008 @ 11:40 am
  13. If you want a real issue to discuss do a search for ‘virus ham’. The FDA has approved the use of 6 different viruses to be used in luncheon meats (this is not an urban myth–check it out yourself).

    Unfortunately, you will never know if the luncheon meat you are consuming contains any of the FDA approved viruses. What is worse is that there are no long term studies on the effects of the viruses on humans.

    Comment by Richard B. — November 4, 2008 @ 11:48 am
  14. When we were stationed in Germany back in the 90’s we had 2 choices for shopping. One was at the base commissary which was subsidized and carried products imported from the states such as Tyson chicken and Hormel pork among other national brands. Our second choice was to shop in the local grocery stores where we would make much more but when it came to meat we quickly found that we would rather pay more for the local stuff. Pork and Chicken were unbelievably good, not much fat but still juicy with no additives. The price per lb was worth the difference in quality. In the US we have a much cheaper food supply but what is it doing to our overall health?

    Comment by mitaliano — November 4, 2008 @ 12:55 pm
  15. @ Richard B: It is most likely by weight, just for practical reasons. I could not quickly find a value for the density of pork, but the density of flesh is 1.4 (vs 1 for water, and a bit more for a salty water solution). So, if you calculate either way, you end up between 7 and 14 % anyway, so the difference isn’t very large. It also doesn’t matter in the overall discussion on whether we want to get our groceries pimped up with water, flavor and who knows what else.

    Comment by Jasper — November 4, 2008 @ 1:37 pm
  16. If you want to buy packaged meat without added water BUY BEEF JERKY! (yeah, calculate that per pound) Get over it!!!! There is a valid reason for adding a relativley small amount of water/salt solution to the product. It’s NOT in there just to bend you over!

    Comment by Shawn — November 6, 2008 @ 10:10 am
  17. The tinned hams, replete with the gelatinous juices they cooked in, have been around for at least a half century. About 25 years ago producers introduced those long sleeved “boneless hams” containing 10% of that gelatin, only it was injected into the ham for better “mouth feel.”

    Mouseprint did an article on how the 10% was upped to 35%, and the package is identical, except it can no longer be sold as “ham,” but as “Ham and Water Product.”

    No, I don’t like the idea of paying extra for water (and gelatin) but I’ll trust the Federally inspected meat plant for sanitary conditons before I trust some of the local store meat departments.

    Comment by ExitRamp — November 9, 2008 @ 5:44 pm
  18. I have to avoid added sodium all the time because I have problems with fluid retention. Now I have to double check every piece of meat I buy. So far, is beef exempted from this awful salt additive craze?

    Also, I have to go on a low iodine diet for 2-3 weeks every year for medical testing purposes–now I can’t even trust the poultry or meat. Food processors usually do not use iodized salt, but there is no guarantee* it wasn’t used–so now, no chicken or pork for those low iodine weeks. Local grocery stores’ meat departments have no idea of what’s actually in those solution.

    *One year I found some tasty lower fat seasoned corn chips. I had called the manufacturer to ascertain that they didn’t use any iodized salt. Absolutely not, I was told. Then — and I really appreciate the time this person took to call me — she told me that one of their suppliers used iodized salt in that tasty spice flavoring. The person I had spoken to actually took the time to call their suppliers. Love those industrious Midwestern values!

    Fortunately, I had planned ahead and made some calls before beginning my diet, so I didn’t mess up my test. (I also developed additional respect for those who shared their experiences with my disease–they said never trust what you’re told about iodized salt: Any producer may get some in and not even know it.)

    By chance, my tests have all been during the summer when there’s plenty of fresh, unprocessed produce. Must work to keep it that way.

    But, really, why are they forcing sodium on those of us who really must avoid it? Frustrating and infuriating.

    Comment by jawbone — December 3, 2008 @ 7:09 pm
  19. My understanding of this issue is just what the grocery stores and manufacturers of pre-packaged meats explain. With all the extra moisture in the meat, the local grocery store also advertises that it is near-impossible to overcook their pork. And, I have found that to be true. I have had plenty of pre-pack meats, and plenty of fresh cut meats as well. On the whole, I have not tasted a palatable difference. The only thing that I do not care for is prepack hamburger. It is packed with a gas in the package that keeps the meat with a longer shelf life, and to give it a look as fresh as fresh-ground hamburger. I don’t like the smell of pre-pack hamburger, however, I haven’t noticed much of a taste difference. But the smell alone is enough to make me want to go with fresh grind or the hamburger tubes.
    BTW, I am married to a butcher.

    Comment by kraizeeangel — December 9, 2008 @ 10:08 am
  20. I have to agree with the person who mentioned the meat experiment. Many times I’ve bought pork chops at the market that look just fine, only to find when I open the package at home the stench of rotten meat. The chops on top look fine but when you look underneath they’re off colored. This has happened with Swift Premium (which is more expensive) as well as the cheaper store family value pack.

    Comment by dave — December 9, 2008 @ 10:16 am
  21. THANK YOU…thank you for reporting all of this for consumers! I started to notice the insidious packaging by accident, and ever since, have been out lawing these products and stores from my life. I wouldn’t accept lying from my employees & family, why should I take it as a consumer? I have followed up with complaints to head offices who can give the lamest of excuses. Wally World being one of the worse places to shop (why keep the 5 riches people rolling) when they once touted USA products. It looks like made in China to me! Keep spreading the word, as I will. Again, keep up the good work!!!!

    Comment by bekka — December 9, 2008 @ 10:29 am

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