The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released documentation last month that provides details on allowed additives that do not need to be labeled on meat and poultry products purchased by consumers.  

For over two years officials at the USDA have been reviewing the issue of chicken sodium injection, an industry food processing standard that has been deemed a natural marinade to make chicken moist but that consumer advocate groups and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) claim misleads consumers.  

chicken-breast3-featured.jpgChicken labeled “natural” may contain up to 15 percent saltwater, which amounts to up to eight times the salt content of unadulterated chicken.  

“Chicken, salt and water are all natural substances, but when you combine the three, you get something that isn’t natural anymore,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Americans consume over 20 billion pounds of poultry annually; the California Poultry Federation estimates that the percentage of chicken injected with sodium has increased from 16 percent to more than 30 percent.  The Federation is advocating for stricter labeling laws because most of its members do not use sodium or water injections in processing.

Increased sodium consumption can lead to serious health concerns.  According to a recent study from the University of California at San Francisco, reducing sodium intake by 1,200 mg per day, the equivalent of one-half teaspoon of salt, could lead to a decrease in the number of heart disease cases.  The study also finds that reduced sodium intake could save in health care costs.  

Fresh meat is generally lower in sodium.  To reduce sodium intake, consumers can purchase fresh or frozen poultry or meat that hasn’t been injected with a saltwater.  To determine which meat and poultry products have been treated with saltwater or other processing agents, have a conversation with your butcher or read the food label.  Some farms maintain a commitment to providing all natural poultry products.

The entire FSIS Directive, “Safe and Suitable Ingredients used in the Production of Meat and Poultry Products,” is available online (pdf). 

A look at chemicals allowed in processing:

Acidifiers: Ammonium hydroxide, an aqueous solution of acidic calcium sulfate, an aqueous solution of hydrochloric and acetic acid, an aqueous solution of citric and hydrochloric acid, an aqueous solution of citric acid, hydrochloric acid, and phosphoric acid, an aqueous solution of sulfuric acid, citric acid, and phosphoric acid, sodium bisulfate, and sulfuric acid.

Anticoagulants: Sodium tripolyphosphate

Antimicrobials: An aqueous solution of sodium diacetate (4%), lactic acid, (4%), pectin (2%), and acetic acid (0.5%); an aqueous solution of sodium octanoate or octanoic acid and either glycerin and/or propylene glycol andor a Polysorbate surface active agent (quantity sufficient to achieve the technical effect of octanoic acid emulsification) adjusted to a final solution pH of 1.5 to 4.0 using sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, or an acceptable GRAS [generally regarded as safe] acid;… (the list goes on for many pages and includes such gems as anhydrous ammonia and chlorine gas)

Antioxidants: BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)

Binders: A mix of sodium alginate, calcium sulfate, glucono deltalactone, and sodium pyrophosphate; a mixture of carrageenan, whey, protein concentrate, and xantham gum; beef collagen; binders listed in 9 CFR 424.21(c) for use in cured pork products and poultry products; carboxymethyl cellulose (cellulose gum); carrot fiber; cellulose, powdered conforming to the specifications in the Food Chemicals Codex 5th Edition; guar powder, micronized; hydroxypropyl methylcellulose; inulin; konjac flour; methylcellulose; oat hull fiber; oat fiber; orange pulp, dried; orange pulp, dried and orange pulp, dried with guar gum; partially hydrolyzed proteins; pectin; pork collagen; pork skin proteins; rice bran; rice starch; sodium alginate; “(species) protein” (e.g., chicken protein); transgultaminase enzyme; trehalose, xanthaM gum (purified by recovery with ethyl alcohol)

Colorings: Carmine (cochineal)

Curing Accelerators (must be used only in combination with curing agents): Potassium erythorbate

Denuding agents (may be used in combination. Must be removed from tripe by rinsing with potable water.): Calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium hydroxide, potassium carbonate, potassium citrate, potassium hydroxide, tricalcium phosphate, tropotassium phosphate

  • Joseph

    This is an issue that certainly needs to be addressed. It is so difficult to reduce daily sodium intake and practices like these only emphasize that. In addition to the health concerns, this is essentially a 15% tax on chicken that people buy.

    • Karen Anderson

      I’m at a point where I’m having a tough time choking down agribusiness meat anymore.

      I called our equivalent of the Bureau of Weights and measures in NC because our local

      Food Lion grocery chain outlets were actually blatantly adding at least an extra pound of water to large packages of chicken that sat on top of the saturated “diapers” under the meat in their styrofoam trays. This was on top of the chemical soup injections. The very first time I have ever gotten a satisfactory response from a government agency! This fraudulent practice disappeared within three weeks of my single call. Almost enough to restore my faith that the government can act in the best interest of its constituents, but not quite.

      I can taste this chemical soup in mass produced meats, to the point that I’m going more and more vegetarian. This puts me at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, since none can be derived from other than animal products. Canned clams are very high in B12, edible to me, even though they’re infused with chemicals too, just not the same ones the meat industry is now allowed to help retain their added water fraud. Some seafoods I still find palatable are also high in B12. You’re going to be deficient if you try to get it only from eggs and dairy; they don’t have much.

      I broke down and bought a free range, organic chicken the other day, chemical free for nearly $12.00 for a 4 pound one. I cut it up, and roasted half of it with just salt, a little pepper, and some rosemary. It was divine, the first time, but not as good as the second time around when I made gravy out of the broth drippings and served it with the leftovers and some mashed potatoes. That gravy was like chicken PERFUME! I still have the other half in the freezer, and I’m looking forward to it.

      I’d rather eat less good, healthy meat, than try to choke down chemically polluted, unpalatable cheaper mass-produced dreck.

      Common people, though, used to have access to good, healthy meat without having to pay exhorbitant prices. I’m old enough to remember when you had a real butcher in your grocery. There were no trays of carbon monoxide, and who knows what else, infused ground beef at WalMart with expiration dates a week in the future. My husband recommended we shop there since they were supposed to have low prices. We went ONCE. Even he, when I showed him the expiration dates on the ground meat said never again.

      My grandparents raised chickens and hogs free range. They also had a dairy before the regulations put that out of business. The cattle were also free range. Most of the male calves were slaughtered for meat. Best meat (pork, chicken, eggs and beef) I ever had. Ironic that the regulations hurt so many small businesses, and reduced the quality of food all but the richest have access to.

  • Tanisha

    This is a very important matter because I am trying to decrease my sodium in take for health reasons and was unaware of these practices.

  • cowboss

    Oh well, seems that the Arsenic in the chicken from the Roxarsone in their feed will help you to not worry excessively about the salt. 🙁

  • Craig Boyd

    Geez! Is there anything we CAN feel good about eating. I love the info you provide, Ms. Burton, but it’s giving me a complex!

  • tjackson

    What about the new preservatives like Carrageenan? Which anyone with seafood allergies will react to.
    And why can’t we buy poultry w/o being injected? Why is the USDA forcing us to eat injected poultry?

  • Oblake

    I agree with Craig! I don’t even know what’s safe to eat any longer…all these additives!
    It’s time to end this food deception! The FDA, USDA, FSIS need to crack down on these manufacturers to stop misrepresenting that these food products are healthy…

  • Offy

    Sigh. Reading about what is in the humans foods makes one hesitate before eating anything “store bought”.
    The next thought that the worst of that, leftovers is processed into food for our pets..and they don’t even tell us what is in it to begin with.
    So much for thinking food safety even exists for any creature that EATS – two legged or four legged.

  • It has to be made clear that the chicken produced by the farm is not the one in question here but the further processing done by meat plants or market butchers for all the wrong reasons like profit or increasing weights. The chicken is pure and good straight from the farm! If this is not emphasized, a shallow reader will get the notion and might spread the word that chickens are full of sodium and other chemicals which are bad for the body.

  • Paula

    An all natural chicken protein obtained from chicken meat is more effective in retaining moisture in cooked chicken than sodium phosphates. It contains zero sodium

  • t.jackson

    This will not be stopped unless the USDA tells them they cannot inject them with chemicals! There are no more chickens to be found w/o injected chemicals. Doesn’t matter what it says on the label.