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