May 2017

LGC completes study to establish uptake of water during production of chicken meat, helping fight food fraud

Added water in chicken is a very common food fraud issue that features periodically in media headlines. Chicken is one of the most commonly consumed meats in the world and because of the large volumes traded, there is an incentive for economically motivated food fraud.

Like all animal species, chicken naturally contains some water, known as ‘physiological water’. Chickens are washed at various stages after slaughter in order to produce chicken meat that is hygienic; however, even when good manufacturing practice is followed, the commercial production of chicken meat adds an amount of technically unavoidable water, known as ‘extraneous water’. European legislation (Commission Regulation (EC) No 543/2008) sets limits for ‘extraneous water’ to ensure that consumers are not being sold water at the price of poultry meat and thus protects them from this type of food fraud.

LGC, the UK National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for added water in poultry meat, has completed a second study commissioned by the European Commission (EC) monitoring uptake of water in chicken raised and processed in the European Union: Study on the state of play of processing technologies and the absorption of water in poultry meat[1]. This study follows previous work performed by LGC commissioned by the EC in 2012, which determined that the physiological water content of chicken produced in the EU had changed over the last twenty years[2].

LGC worked with Agra CEAS Consulting and six National Reference laboratories (France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and UK) to complete this work. A specialist courier company, Biocair, was used to transport samples under thermally stable conditions. Samples were collected from 15 poultry processing plants in six of the top seven EU poultry producing countries which accounted for more than 60 % of EU poultry production.

Quote from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development “the study conclusions provide valuable information on current EU industrial processing systems for poultry and their combined effect on the water: protein ratios in chicken breasts, legs and whole carcases, and a useful reference for discussions on legal limits for extraneous water for different chilling methods / different portions of chicken”.
The European Commission will consider the results of this study in view of the planned review of marketing regulations across all food groups.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/external-studies/2016-water-in-poultrymeat_en
[2] https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/external-studies/water-in-poultry-2012_en