France’s Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) conducted a survey on the amount of water added to frozen and deep-frozen poultry in 2016 and published the results last week.
It found a series of failures in the self-checks and breaches in EU regulation regarding the water content in whole chicken carcasses and some cuts of chicken and turkey.
The DGCCRF visited 37 different establishments in France and took 44 samples, which were then analysed in a laboratory in Montpellier. Overall, it found a non-conformity rate of almost one quarter (23%), prompting it to issue seven warnings and take administrative action.
The samples included 11 whole chickens and cockerels and 33 cuts of chicken and turkey. Of these, 13 fresh cut samples were found to be compliant and 10 non-compliant.
The tests were carried out at production plants (36% of samples) and at wholesale distribution centres and supermarkets (64%).
Examples of breaches occurred both at the production and distribution stag, which five non-compliant products found in each.
Water is naturally present in meat and food processors are allowed to add water to frozen poultry but this is capped at certain limits under EU regulation (No 543/2008).
Carcasses may contain between 1.5% and 7% while cuts of meat may contain between 2% and 6%, which can be added at the slaughterhouse, in the processing plant or during the immersion cooling stage.
Operators may add more to increase the weight of the meat.
The DGCCRF had warned operators than any processors found to be selling products that breached the EU limits would be obliged to add a banner or labelling in red capital letters the words ‘Water content exceeding the EU limit’.
Unsurprisingly, businesses opted to destroy non-compliant products rather than add the warning.
This was the case for one food service catering wholesaler responsible for distribution of chicken from Romania, found to be over the authorised limit of water content. The company preferred to destroy all 132 products rather than add the warning label.
It also found a number of other breaches in food safety regulations, particularly regarding cold storage conditions, and issued warnings to a number of operators for refrigerating foods at non-compliant temperatures, a lack of monitoring and recording of food storage temperatures, equipment that was inadequately maintained and ruptures in cold chain storage.
The companies in question have received warnings, it said.