What are they pumping into your chicken?

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By Consumers Union on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Chicken companies are pulling a fast one on consumers.  In a common practice the industry likes to call ‘enhancing’ or ‘plumping’, chicken is injected with water, salt and other additives to help it stay juicier and more flavorful.   The package may tell you the chicken is “enhanced with chicken broth” – but what’s actually in it, and in what quantities?   You probably won’t find that information on the label, because meat processors aren’t required to tell you.

The problem with this practice is two-fold.  First, consumers don’t know what they’re eating.  As millions of people try to heed doctors’ warnings and abide by a low-sodium diet, they may be unknowingly ingesting way more salt in their meal than they know.   A 4 oz. serving of plain, non-enhanced chicken might have 45 to 70 mg of sodium.  But the ‘enhanced’ version?  Up to 440 mg – about 20% of the recommended daily limit, and that’s before an unwitting chef takes it home to season it even further.

Second, what are we really paying for: chicken or water?  Say you buy a package of boneless chicken breasts at the supermarket for $5.00/lb.   If they’re “enhanced with 15% chicken broth” (as many are) then you’re getting about $4.25 worth of chicken, and $0.75 of water and fillers.   In fact, according to the Truthful Labeling Coalition, “the US government estimates that consumers spend $2 billion per year buying salt water at chicken prices.”  That’s some expensive salt water we’re shelling out for.

So who are the ‘enhancing’ offenders?  Consumer Reports’ own investigating found that Purdue and Pilgrim’s Pride pump up their meat with added water and sodium (in one case, we found chicken with 840 mg of sodium per serving!) and Tyson has also been criticized for this practice in some of its products.  Perhaps even more deceiving for consumers is that some of these companies go so far as to advertise the chicken as ‘all natural’ on the packaging – which has, ahem, ruffled the feathers of some companies that do not engage in the practice of enhancing their chicken, such as Foster Farms (which launched a pretty entertaining ad campaign to tell you about it).

Consumers Union supports better labeling of meat products that have been pumped with these salty solutions.   In our recent comments to the USDA, we request that labels contain “an accurate description of the raw meat or poultry component (e.g. chicken breast, pork tenderloin); the percentage of the added solution using numerical representation and the percent symbol, “%”; and a listing of the ingredients in the solution in descending order of predominance by weight.”

Furthermore, companies should no longer be allowed to use the word ‘enhanced’, which we find “misleading because it suggests that the meat has been improved through the use of added solutions when, in fact, it may actually be less healthy due to the presence of excessive levels of sodium.”

Do you have chicken in your fridge or freezer?  Go check the label and see what it says.  Is it ‘enhanced’?  What’s the sodium content?  Leave us a comment and tell us about it.

And if you think consumers deserve better labeling so we know what’s in our meat (especially when we’re paying chicken prices for salt water), you can tell the USDA about it here.

37 responses to “What are they pumping into your chicken?”

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  2. christian g allarde says:

    I worked at CHurch’s Fried Chicken here at Las Vegas and im the one cooking the chickens. It says on the package to which the chickens are put in both the white and dark meat injected chicken meat is it harmful for people to eat chicken that has been injected with not knowing what these chickens have been injected with.

  3. christian g allarde says:

    i worked for church’s fried chicken and it says on the plastic that the chicken pieces are wrapped or put in before i cooked in. With both the white and dark meat injected meat is safe for humans to eat injected chicken meat eventhough we dont know whats been injected in the chicken.

  4. Rich says:

    The amount of stupidity in these comments makes me want to be injected with some reality changing compound. It also makes me wonder how there are a bunch of children commenting on this topic, or how some on Earth some of you remember to breathe??

  5. KB says:

    Check out “What The Health” on Netflix for more info on this topic!

  6. ronna says:

    My cats won’t touch the store bought chickens that have that added crap! When I roast a top quality organic chicken they will gulp down all I will give them! Something in that 15% solution is repugnant to cats! Maybe we humans should learn from them!

  7. pete crane says:

    I am giving up all meat except fish after eating chicken drumsticks that were injected, salty, bland, disgusting and inedibly weird. Don’t forget that we are now buying a strip of fluid absorbing trash within every package that increases weight and package cost while unnecessarily inflating the waste stream. What happens to all the unnecessary packaging we purchase?

  8. Nell says:

    I don’t understand why one would even eat meat, especially in the quantities most people do. We have no need of so much protein.

  9. M E Chapman says:

    I stopped buying chicken from grocery stores. I buy from a local meat market that gets theirs meats directly from local farmers.
    And this coming spring I have decided to raise my own meat birds. No more wasted money on tainted meat.
    Funny how they made McDonalds (Which I never will eat there again) put all the information for every meal you get. Yet commercial places where we think we are getting good healthy food, are being deceptive and killing us. Someone with high cholesterol and eating right and not knowing how it is high will only get worse if they don’t know it’s the chicken they eat.

    • Melissa Johnson says:

      That would be exceptional if we all could afford I try to go as natraul as possible for my of 5 but sometimes it’s no financially possible

  10. Walter D says:

    I am here trying to find out why for the last year, chicken breasts have increasingly become rubbery at times. And more importantly how I can identify and buy chicken that is not like that. I have literally spit chicken into the sink and scraped the plate in the garbage twice in two weeks. Two different brands. Two different stores. Have been cooking over 40 years so it ain’t the chef. Interestingly others have suspected the injections contribute to this new breed of inedible chicken.

    • Mary Fye says:

      I buy Tyson whole chickens and split them down the middle of the backbone. Clean well and soak in salt water overnight.l have talked to them several times.

  11. rita Choiniere says:

    the Stop and Shop circular flier has the phrase ” up to 15% solution added”. curious, I searched and read your web site answer. I would prefer to “brine” my own chicken and pork to control salt content.
    over the last year, I have noticed when I cook hamburger, there seems to be a lot of water coming from the meat when you first fry it. I use a paper towel to remove the extra water, then the meat begins to brown.

  12. Diane says:

    I also didn’t realize Aldi added salt to (at least some of) their chicken. Unfortunately, I found out by eating my (ruined) meal. I rarely add salt to anything I cook, but this had so much it was nearly inedible.
    Also, you have to realize the FDA has a dual mandate: promote American produced food, protect consumers. Guess which is more lucrative?

  13. vz says:

    i noticed Aldi’s offered a few varieties of chicken such as thighs, breasts, drumsticks, boneless, etc and i picked up a rather lsrge package of it and did not notice the label stating the added salt and water until i was putting everything on the conveyor at the check out, and i was shocked but i immediately handed it to the cashier and explained why. I have since checked chicken labels (and all other food labels)but have not seen it on perdue or tyson yet, and not all Aldi chicken has it but their other chicken clearly says it has “retained water”. i looked that up to see what that means and found an article online that says the meat is placed in vats of water after it is slaughtered and cut up apparently to wash it and keep it cold, the article stated that these disclosures must be put on the front of the label.

    the moral of the story is “Let the consumer BEWARE and read ALL food labels” including food products that years ago were pure and additive free such as butter, yogurt, buttermilk, cream, cheeses, etc because even many brands have unsafe additives in those items (which have been deemed safe by fda because they wont kill you immediately!) many dairy products now contain gums and dextrose and flavoring. we are living in a workd that worships the dollar more than people’s health, and considers it the responsibility of the consumer to read the label, if they are ignorant and fail to check labels these companies feel innocent of wrongdoing and consider it the consumer’s own fault.

  14. vz says:

    inoticed Aldi’s offered a few varieties of chicken such as thighs, breasts, drumsticks, boneless, etc and i picked up a rather lsrge packsge of it and did not notice the label stating the added salt and water until i was putting everything on the conveyor at the check out, and i was shocked but i immediately handed it to the cashier and explained why. I have since checked chicken labels (and all other food labels)but have not seen it on perdue or tyson yet, and not all Aldi chicken has it but their other chicken clearly says it has “retained water”. i looked that up to see what that means and found an article online that says the meat is placed in vats of water after it is slaughtered and cut up apparently to wash it and keep it cold, the article stated that these disclosures must be put on the front of the label.

    the moral of the story is “Let the consumer BEWARE and read ALL food labels” including food products that years ago were pure and additive free such as butter, yogurt, buttermilk, cream, cheeses, etc because even many brands have unsafe additives in those items (which have been deemed safe by fda because they wont kill you immediately!) many dairy products now contain gums and dextrose and flavoring. we are living in a workd that worships the dollar more than people’s health, and considers it the responsibility of the consumer to read the label, if they are ignorant and fail to check labels these companies feel innocent of wrongdoing and consider it the consumer’s own fault.

  15. vz says:

    inoticed Aldi’s offered a few varieties of chicken such as thighs, breasts, drumsticks, boneless, etc and i pocked up a rather lsrge packsge of it and did not notice the label stating the added salt and water until i was putting everything oun the conveyor at the check out, and i was shocked but i immediately handed it to the cashier and explained why. I have since checked labels but have not seen it on perdue or tyson yet, and not all Aldi chicken has it but their other chicken clearly says it has “retained water”. i looked that up and read that the meat is placed in vats of water after it is dlaughtered and cut up apparently to wash it and kerp it cold, the article stated that these disclosures must be put on the front of the label.

    the moral of the story is “read ALL food labels” including food products that years ago were pure and additive free such as butter, yogurt, buttermilk, cream, cheeses, etc because even many brands have additives in those products now such as gums and dextrose and flavoring. we are living in a workd thst worships the dollar more than people’s health, and leaves it to the consumer to read the label, if they are ignorant and fail to check labels these companies feel it’s their own fault.

  16. […] “What are they pumping into your chicken?” Consumers Union […]

  17. odis stinnett says:

    It not only the chicken we buy, but pork is also “enhanced”.
    I think they also do it to try and improve a less quality product. i

  18. Elaine Howell says:

    Please hold manufacturers to ‘Truth in Labeling’ so we can each choose products that suit our needs. Truth includes using correct terminology that can be easily understood by all consumers.

  19. Mark says:

    I eat a lot of chicken and just had a large kidney stone removed wonder if the extra sodium solidified the calcium formation?

  20. Sandra Parks says:

    I am tired of eating food grown and prosessed in other countries when they do not follow our standards. Then we have to worry about the company’s in this country shooting salt and water, and other chemicals into our foods. USDA put a stop to this!

    • LavenderBee says:

      Sandra, Unfortunately we are too far gone for that unless there’s a massive uprising and we hold our institutions accountable. The USDA is an arm of big agriculture, they are not looking out for our health. It’s all about money.

      Boycott businesses that are deceptive or engage in unsafe practices. Scope out small, local farmers and buy from them. Avoid processed food as much as possible. It’s important to eat right if you want to live a long healthy life. The quality of food in the US is no joke; it’s making us ill.

  21. Steven Owen says:

    Yes i agree it is quite disgusting i have been wondering for years now! Why are chicken breast as big as Turkey? Now that i have major blood pressure and digestion problems not including intestinal! It really makes me feel bad for others that are dieing daily because our own goverment is not monitoring this situation. The more people say somthing we shall be making a point to others that arn’t even aware of this!!!

  22. Candace Muetzel says:

    I think Something besides sodium is being injected. The last two times I used a store bought chicken to make chicken soup, it was oddly sweet. I used no sugar or sweetener of any kind- just chicken, garlic, water, carrots, onions, celery. Why sweet? Scary

  23. […] for example, is often injected with salt water and other additives to keep it “plump.” (Oh, and then they also get to charge you $4.99/pound for salt […]

  24. Lynn says:

    All food comapnies,make me sick. Even the foods that should be healthy&by nature,usually are,are no longer healthy to eat these days. They pump it full of unnecessary this,add unnecessary that,add bleach&other chemicals for crying out loud,(chemicals do NOT belong in the human body),lie about what’s in it/used on it ad nauseuam. They could still make a decent profit(not as huge&endless as they’d like but still decent),without ruining our food&health,but noooo,they don’t want to understand or care about that,because they are just greedy for money,money&more money,our health,be damned. What a sad,backwards messed up state of affairs the U.S. is in,when there is’nt hardly any genuinely healthy foods sold in stores. Even the ones that ‘should’ be healthy. \: Sorry for the rant,but this topic is very frustrating to me,because one thing all humans should have at all times,is truly healthy food in the stores to eat&live off of. And that’s one of the things we no longer have We have plenty of candy/sweets,chips,TV dinners,fast food&tons of junk food&other assorted processed crap,but very little truly healthy food,to choose from,in our grocery stores. I also find it sad&so wrong,that many people seem to be so accepting of it,as a ‘normal’ part of life…

  25. jm says:

    what did jm say
    shouldnt be allowed

  26. jm says:

    every time i eat it i feel sick
    should be allowed

  27. Desrene says:

    I’m from that era where I ate home-grown chicken, fed on corn and other natural ingredient, and they were delicious.
    Our bodies are now being destroyed unknowingly. I am disturbed.

  28. Bill Bithell says:

    The difference I’ve found at my local markets is about a 10X hike in “Sodium”. No one said NAcl here, as in table salt ! Industry is using a
    variety of chemicals, perhaps Sodium Nitrate to get chicken to hold the
    extra water. This is linked to Heart disease, cancer and perhaps Type
    2 Diabetes. Who knows what other toxins industry adds to increase their
    profits, under the category of “Sodium”. Too bad that the USA is run by
    lobbyists! and you can be fed all sorts of toxins to benefit global corporations. If anyone wants to help clean up Washington, they can run over a lobbyist.

  29. Kelly A Crout says:

    I have a friend that now has a low sodium diet and i had the privilege of getting to shop for her.
    I was in shock as I read labels and found that chicken we have always bought was pumped with broth among other things.
    My husband and I have been eating healthy and making a lot of our own products to get rid of the chemicals in product. We feel cheated. Something needs to be done!

  30. Paul Burns says:

    Dear Congress,

    Please pass legislation requiring labeling of meat and poultry to ensure consumers know what’s in our meat (especially when we’re paying chicken prices for salt water).

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