It was a devastating day when I realized that there are sometimes ingredients in store-bought meats. And I don’t just mean in hotdogs, lunchmeat and bacon….I’m talking about ground beef, steaks, pork chops and fresh chicken!!! And, while many meats do contain a “salt water solution,” salt is not the ingredient I’m referring to.
I buy most of my meat directly from farmers, so it wasn’t until I started helping some friends and family members sift their way through the meat section at local grocery stores, that I realized….Ahhhhh!!!! There’s “junk” in the meat!! (And, unfortunately, there’s “junk” in all sorts of foods that you may not suspect - it’s not just the meats! So be sure to check out my complete shopping guide here!)
One particular friend picked up a package of ground turkey only to find that the package had an ingredients list on the back. Huh? I had to check with my own 2 eyes, but there it was in black and white: “Ingredients: Turkey and natural flavor“!! (And I can only imagine how many folks are selecting ground turkey in an effort to be healthier. Unfortunately, we are being misled. Ughh!!)
I wish that I could assure you that ground turkey is the only suspect, but an inspection of the ground chicken breast package revealed the same…”natural flavor.” I’m not saying this is automatically true of every brand, but be on the look out.
Unfortunately, there’s more bad news. While assisting a friend with her shopping at a local grocery store that doesn’t have an in-house butcher, I discovered that every meat package that I flipped over contained a solution of all sorts of mysterious words…even the ground beef and the steaks! Wild!
I have since learned that, especially when a store doesn’t chop their meat on site, a preservative solution must be added when the meat is processed in order to extend shelf life because by the time it is shipped and reaches the store (often from several states away), the pre-cut/pre-ground meat wouldn’t have much shelf-life left; and that’s not good for business.
Even so, it’s not as simple as just making sure that your grocer has a butcher. Much of what their butcher is chopping may still be filled with solution. Look at the front and back of the package. If it says nothing, then ask the meat department manager just to be certain because sometimes the meats that are packaged at the store don’t list the ingredients on the label.
Think you’ll just play it safe and buy the “fresh” stuff directly from the meat case? Think again. At least in my town, the 2 major chains that have fresh meat cases are selling solution-filled meats in those cases, and you wouldn’t even know unless you ask. The key here is to ask the butcher (or even better, the meat department manager). And ask often because things do change.
I hate to name names because other unmentioned stores may be just as good/bad as any example I give here, and stores may change their processes and void any examples I give here, but I know people are going to ask me, so as of Spring 2011 here’s the scoop for stores in Omaha, NE…
-Amana beef (sold at HyVee) is just meat, no additives.
-Bare Naked Chicken is just chicken, no additives.
-Most Smart Chicken is just chicken; check the label
-Hormel Pork is injected with a “patented solution”. It says so on the label, but if you buy pork from the fresh meat case at HyVee, for instance, this is the meat you are getting and it won’t necessarily have the ingredients listed. (There used to be a sign posted at the meat counter that listed the ingredients of this “solution,” but I’m not sure it’s still there, so here are the details from their website: “Solution Ingredients: Water, Potassium Lactate, Sodium Phosphates, Salt, Sodium Diacetate.”)
-No Frills & Bag N Save both offer tons of meat products with no other ingredients…even their pork products from Farmland’s Best (but not Hormel) are “clean” of added ingredients.
-All chicken and beef products in the refrigerated cases at Costco are just meat. The pork contains a solution – this was not indicated on the package; I asked the butcher!
And Tyson Chicken takes top prize for Best Label Confusion!!! I was under the impression that their chicken was free of added ingredients…and it does say “All Natural” on the package, which brings me to my next point…ignore all claims made on the front of the package. It’s the ingredients list that matters, and words like “natural” are not regulated by the FDA, so companies can make whatever claims they’d like! But I digress.
So I had advised my friend to purchase Tyson chicken because their ingredients label read “clean.” A few months later, I noticed that the meat contained “up to 15% natural broth.” A quick check of the ingredients list revealed that the chicken contained: “chicken, chicken broth, sea salt and natural flavor.” The 2 packages looked exactly the same, except for that little phrase in small print in the purple box that reads, “up to 15% natural broth.” Strange.
Upon further research, I learned that Tyson has 2 varieties of “All Natural” chicken. As their website explains, one is “marinated” (i.e. “natural broth”) and the other is not. But boy do those packages look the same otherwise. From what I have seen, each grocery store tends to sell just one version or the other; so you’ll have to re-check at each store you frequent. And I had actually seen the 2 different packages at 2 different grocers.
At last check, No Frills & Bag N Save carried the unmarinated version that’s just chicken, and Baker’s carries the marinated version. I went back to the 2 different stores to bring you these photos because I just couldn’t believe how similar the packaging looks for 2 totally different products (Note: the package colors are actually exactly the same; they just look different in these photos because I used 2 different cameras.) Anyone else find this deceptive???
Several of my family members shop locally at Fareway and every time they’ve asked they’ve been assured by the butcher that their in-house meats are free of additives. I don’t have a Fareway near me, so I haven’t been there personally. But, again, always double-check….even with what I’ve posted here because companies sometimes change their practices and stores can change suppliers/brands, etc.
Obviously, the specific examples listed here do not represent an exhaustive list. This blog is just intended to give you the tools you need to ask the right questions at your meat counter. If you find particular examples that you’d like to add, please comment below :)
In closing, I offer you the following disclaimer:
I am not a fan of store-bought meats at all, and I do not support the way most of those animals are raised or fed. Unfortunately, even if you buy the “cleanest” meat available at most stores, you are still most likely getting much more than just meat (e.g., antibiotics, hormones, corn-fed), but if you must purchase at the store, hopefully this helps you make some more informed decisions.
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