Chicken scandal: state faults company

An inspection by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has found Supreme Poultry to be in contravention of the Meat Safety Act by injecting excessive quantities of brine into their products.

In a statement released by Noncedo Vutula, the department’s chief director of communication and information, the department said it conducted a visit to Supreme Poultry’s Botshabelo abattoir on January 18 and found that the brine injection currently administered to the poultry is in contravention of official regulations.

The inspection followed reports in City Press regarding a frozen chicken scandal involving Supreme Poultry, the country’s third-largest chicken producer.

The company admitted to “reworking” chickens that have expired.

Company spokesperson Tish Stewart refuted the allegations this afternoon, saying: “Our industry body, the South African Poultry Association, has today taken issue with the department on behalf of the company and the industry, requesting a full retraction of the media release.”

She said that the department has no jurisdiction over the brining process.

“The fact is that brining inspections fall under the department of health, whose regulations Supreme is fully compliant with.”

Stewart added that the health department’s latest report, based on a visit to their Botshabelo plant on December 21 2010, cleared Supreme of any of the “false allegations” made by the agriculture department and gave the abattoir a clean bill of health.

After breaking the story, City Press asked Professor Arno Hugo of the department of microbial biochemistry and food biotechnology at the University of the Free State to undertake an independent probe of the country’s four major chicken brands.

The study found, among other things, that one of the country’s well-known brands weighed 48.37% less when all the fluid had been cooked out of the chicken as a result of a high brine water concentration.

Supreme admitted to having thawed frozen chickens after the expiry date, treated the meat with chlorine, injecting them with brine and attaching a new expiry date.

The company said these chickens are sold at spaza shops and wholesalers.

Vutula said that the recent inspection revealed contraventions that had to do with inadequate process descriptions, keeping and reworking of returned frozen meat.

She said that the department identified this “abuse” as a threat to consumer safety and value for money.

The department has since contracted the Agricultural Research Council to conduct a study on brine injection of chicken meat.

Supreme Poultry’s abattoir in Botshabelo had been instructed to correct deficiencies found at the time of inspection under the supervision of the Free State Veterinary Services.

The agriculture department warned that the method used to re-work frozen chickens by injecting excessive quantities of brine, ranging from 30% to 60% in individual quick frozen (IQF) portions, was an abuse.

Vutula said the method is only allowed on breast meat and using it on all portions of poultry meat was an abuse.

Poultry regulations under the Agricultural Product Standards Act allow the tenderisation of breast meat by the injection of a phosphate solution.

“Excessive quantities of brine were being administered on products leading to excessive moisture loss during defrosting and cooking of such meat.”

Interim results of the Agricultural Research Council research study
» Excessive brine injection of chicken meat leads to high weight (moisture) losses;

» Uninjected control breast portions had ± 5% defrosting loss, compared to ± 24% of those injected;

» A 15% cooking loss on uninjected portions compared to 22% of those injected;

» A 20% total moisture loss on uninjected portions compared to 45% of those injected;

» Nutrient dilution in injected chickens demonstrated by lower protein and energy content. The average was 6.87% protein dilution and 211.65% energy level dilution;

» Brine injection resulted in elevated salt levels (average 0.37% higher) in IQF portions;

» High sodium levels that may pose a health risk for consumers; and

» A probable solution would be that IQF portions be labelled as products containing added salt and sodium.

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