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March 23, 2020

Sometimes No Disclosure Is Better

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

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Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.

Who would think that Mouse Print* would ever say that less disclosure can sometimes be better than more disclosure? There aren’t too many cases where this is true, but here is one of them.

In preparation for St. Patrick’s Day two weeks ago, MrConsumer checked out the bargains on corned beef at various local supermarkets. Point cut corned beef was on sale for between $1.47 and $1.69 a pound at the low end. As we have shown before, the name of the game when buying cheap corned beef is to check how much water (“solution”) is injected into the beef.

Here are a couple of brands that have 35% water. In other words, you are paying $1.49 a pound for packages that are one-third water and only two-thirds beef.

corned beef

corned beef

MrConsumer did not want to be burned again by those brands, so he hightailed it over to another store offering corned beef for $1.69 a pound. When he looked to see how much water was injected into the brands they carried, the information was conspicuously missing.


corned beef packages

Where was the percentage disclosure like the other brands had? It was nowhere on these packages. I asked the meat man if he knew (he didn’t) and whether he could check the carton. There was no disclosure there either. So, what would you do? Buy one of the unmarked packages and take a chance or take a pass? I left the store corned beef-less.

Since one of the brands was made in Massachusetts, I called headquarters to ask the million dollar question. After about 10 minutes of the receptionist presumably trying to find someone who knew the answer, she finally came back on the line and said “20-percent.”

Why didn’t the company put this on the label? It is a big selling point compared to the competition.

The answer is they don’t have to when the product complies with the federal standard of identity for corned beef which allows, by definition, for there to be up to 20% water in raw corned beef.


§ 319.101 Corned beef brisket.
In preparing “Corned Beef Brisket,” the application of curing solution to the beef brisket shall not result in an increase in the weight of the finished cured product of more than 20 percent over the weight of the fresh uncured brisket.

Only if a product like corned beef does not meet the standard of identity (20% or less of water) does there have to be a clear disclosure on the principal display panel as part of the name stating the percentage of water/solution in the product, as the top group of products shows. [See 9 CFR § 317.2 (e)(2)(i)]

So there you have it. Because the two unlabeled brands above did not exceed the amount of water allowed, they didn’t have to tell consumers how much was actually in it (although it really would have been smart to do so). In this case then, buying raw corned beef with no disclosure is a smarter move than purchasing the ones that tell you how much water has been injected.

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  1. I had to laugh out loud at the typography of the O’Donnell’s label: “(BIG PRINT) CONTAINS UP TO 35% OF A SOLUTION (tiny print) of water…”

    Comment by Phelps — March 23, 2020 @ 6:48 am
  2. Careful with those percentages! If the corned beef producer can add no more than 20% of the beef’s weight as curing solution, the final product must have no more than 20/120 = 16.7% solution. A finished product that’s 20% solution and 80% beef must have had 20/80 = 25% solution added, above the limit.

    Comment by Eric Sosman — March 23, 2020 @ 7:53 am
  3. You mathed.
    There’ll be none of that.
    Do you know how long it took my eyes to roll back into place?
    I thought I’d be stuck looking at the back of my skull, forever.

    Warning label. They save eyes.

    Comment by Patty — March 24, 2020 @ 4:21 pm
  4. In the last paragraph, Mouse Print states, “Because the two unlabeled brands above did not exceed the amount of water allowed, they didn’t have to tell consumers how much [water] was actually in it…In this case then, buying raw corned beef with no disclosure is a smarter move than purchasing the ones that tell you how much water has been injected.”

    Is Edgar stating that it’s generally better to buy the unlabeled brand that was on sale containing less than 20% water, based on the comparison pricing he experienced? Or is he making a general statement concerning buying one over the other. I don’t think he can make a general statement advising buying labeled brands vs unlabeled brands–for example, wouldn’t that depend on the price per pound of the unlabeled brand vs the labeled brand? Even with 35% water, one might still come out ahead if the price per pound of the 35% watered stuff is low enough to be cheaper per pound.

    In any event, it was a great article because we all know of similar circumstances with canned tuna, canned vegetables, and the like. But re the St Patrick’s sales on corned beef, I always knew Edgar is a good Irishman.

    Comment by Dan Kap — March 23, 2020 @ 10:44 am
  5. Edgar replies: Dan… I was referring to this particular case where the unlabeled brand was $1.69 with 20% water injected vs. the $1.47 ones with 35% water. But the main message of the story was to educate readers that unlabeled corned beef is “only” 20% water by law… so knowing that fact, they can make a more intelligent choice of which product to buy given the price being offered.

    Comment by Edgar (aka MrConsumer) — March 23, 2020 @ 10:53 am
  6. Not making an accusation, but if I was an unscrupulous corned beef manufacturer and not complying with these regulations, when you called I would say 20% as well. Knowing the competition is using do much more water why wouldn’t you advertise you are better? Only one reason I can think of…

    Comment by Adam — March 23, 2020 @ 11:39 am
  7. Have a look at the label on a frozen turkey sometime!

    Edgar replies: We covered that here.

    Comment by Gay — March 23, 2020 @ 5:08 pm
  8. It’s so annoying when food companies do not explicitly state package contents. Its even more annoying when the the package content is a benefit to the product relevant to others.

    Most consumers are probably only going to notice the $1.49 vs $1.69 price, and in that case the cheaper product usually wins.

    Comment by Wayne — March 24, 2020 @ 9:56 pm

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