Tests show lean mince actually contains more fat

2016-02-16 11:35
Shoprite Checkers has addressed human error that saw higher fat contents in meat than what the packaging claimed.

Shoprite Checkers has addressed human error that saw higher fat contents in meat than what the packaging claimed. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - Cascsades Lifestyle Centre Checkers’ lean and extra lean beef mincemeat have been shown to contain more fat than the “less than 5%” and “less than 10%” claims on the packs, according to independent laboratory tests.

Checkers put the discrepancy down to “human error”, saying it would address the issue via staff quality assurance training, but this is not the first time the issue has been raised in recent months.

Witness Crusaders sent four packs of mince for testing to establish the fat content after consumer Tanis March complained in October last year that the fat content in the mincemeat appeared to be higher than the“less than 5%” and “less than 10%” fat claimed on the labels. Gillian Richardson later also complained to me that she had stopped buying the ground beef after cooking it and finding it was more fatty than expected.

A certificate of analysis issued to me by the South African National Accreditation System-accredited Chem-Science Laboratories, which tested four samples — the two original samples that March purchased in October and a further two samples bought a month later after the retailer had promised to rectify the problem — confirmed her concerns.

According to the certificate of analysis the earlier sample labelled “lean mince, less than 10% fat” was found to have 16% fat, while the pack labelled “extra lean mince, less than 5% fat” contained 12% fat. Both of the packs purchased in November also had a higher fat content than claimed — 7% and 12% respectively rather than 5% and 10%.

So it seems that Checkers took some action to rectify the fat content after the initial complaints were reported in this column, but did not go far enough to quite justify the claims.

Chem-Science Laboratories technical manager Shahistah Gaffoor said analysts had homogenised the samples and then hydrolysed (broken down) the fatty matter with acid, extracted it with a solvent and filtered it to remove particles before weighing it.

“We had one analyst test in duplicate to obtain results, and when results were out of specification, we then had another analyst test it, which is standard company procedure,” Gaffoor said.

She explained that the test results had a two percent tolerance margin due to the nature of the sample, which meant that the fat content could actually be two percent more or less than the test results. However, even if the mincemeat did contain two percent less fat the total fat content was borderline regarding the “less than 10%” and “less than 5%” claims.

Gaffoor said the retailer would need to adjust its labels or the fat content in its meat. “They would have to change the ratio of meat to fat or they would need to change their labels. People need to know what they are buying,” she said.

Shoprite Checkers spokesperson Sarita van Wyk said the retailer was committed to providing customers with quality products but it was not always possible to test them. “Samples of meat products produced in its butcheries are regularly tested by independent laboratories to ensure that the specifications and quality standards set by the company are adhered to. Due to the high costs involved in testing, it is not possible to test all products at all times,” she said.

“It is unfortunate that human error may occur from time to time and we remain committed to address such instances through retraining or additional quality assurance processes as may be required. Should we make an error with any meat product, customers are most welcome to bring it to our attention and we will gladly refund and replace it to their satisfaction,” Van Wyk said.

However, March was not impressed, saying the incorrect labelling was a problem for consumers with intolerances and health issues. “I do not think Checkers did enough — if ‘less than 10%’ is advertised on the packaging — then as consumers we trust that the fat content is less than 10%,” she said

“Checkers had the opportunity to correct the fat content in the mince to correctly advertised percentages, but still failed to do so. I feel this is blatant disregard for the consumer. Maybe they didn’t think the mince would be tested again,” March said.

• Send your consumer issues to consumer@3i.co.za

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