Food authenticity is again under scrutiny after a TV programme aired on BBC 1 on July 14 described the use of pork and beef proteins to bulk out chicken with water.
The programme outlined how analytical techniques developed by The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and York University could identify potential adulteration of chicken using improperly labelled ingredients.
On behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), biochemist Dr Paul Reece and his team at FERA have carried out studies on the amino acid sequences of the proteins in the meat. The method can identify the species of any protein added to the meat.
These proteins are often added in ‘injection‘ or ‘tumbling’ mixtures used to help retain water in chicken breast products. The mixtures can include salt, phosphates and hydrolysed animal proteins, often as gelatine.
However, when water-retaining agents are used, they must be described accurately on the label. And where protein from other animal species is added then this species must be clearly marked on the label.
Analysis of both commercial injection powders and catering packs of chicken fillets has indicated that proteins from beef or pork gelatine were also present in some of the samples.
“Use of these proteins does not make chicken products unsafe, but it is important that people are given accurate information about their food,” said Reece.
The protein sequencing techniques will form a support service to food industry quality control teams. They will help them ensure both the injection/ tumbling agents meet specification and that processed poultry and other meat products meet labelling requirements.