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Processed meats pumped up with water

27th April 2005

A Food Magazine survey of processed meats has found that trusted companies such as Bernard Matthews, Mattessons and Ye Olde Oak sell meat products that contain an estimated 10 to 20% added water. One extreme example was a can of Ye Olde Oak ham, found to be just 55% meat padded out with water, along with 'pork protein' (gelatine), salt, sugar and five additives.

The survey found added water in bacon, ham, chicken, lamb, turkey, sausages and hot dogs. The water is added by soaking, tumbling and even injection, and typically held in place by phosphate additives or other ingredients such as starch or gelatine.

Other examples from the Food Magazine survey included Bernard Matthews Wafer Thin American Fried Chicken that was just 62% meat; ASDA 'traditional style' Irish recipe sausages that were only 37% meat; Ye Olde Oak Hot Dogs that contained less than 50% meat (49% chicken and pork, excluding added collagen and fat) and lamb and turkey 'ham', both made by Bernard Matthews, which were 86% meat and 60% meat respectively. The ingredients lists showed that all of these products were pumped up with added water.

"Many shoppers are unaware that processed meats can contain anything from 10% to 30% added water. Although companies are required to declare added water, they don't have to say how much. The information given on the labels is inconsistent, sometimes hard to find, and often very confusing," said Ian Tokelove, spokesperson for the Food Commission. "The water won't harm you, but do you really want to spend your hard-earned cash on watered-down ham and soggy sausages?"

It is legal for companies to add water to any food, including meat, up to a level of 5%, without declaring this on the label. If a company adds more than 5% water to meat (or 10% water for bacon and gammon) then they must state on the label that the product contains added water.

The law also requires companies to declare the percentage of meat in a meat product (called the Quantitative Ingredient Declaration or QUID), helping consumers to compare products and see if they are getting value for money. However, the law does not require companies to tell their customers how much water has been added.

The survey found that 'added water' declarations are usually made in small print, and that some companies, such as Bernard Matthews, placed the declaration on the back of packets. Only a few products, such as Sainsbury's 'Basics' Cooked Ham, gave information about the percentage of added water, clearly declared on the front of the pack.

More information:

Contact: Ian Tokelove, telephone: 020 7837 2250; email: press@foodcomm.org.uk

The following pages may also be of interest

  • Articles: Processed meats are pumped up with water
    It is perfectly legal to sell watered-down food to unsuspecting shoppers, as long as you describe the water as an ingredient in the small print. Ian Tokelove went looking for watery meat, and found the shelves awash.