Water being sold for the price of ham: CHOICE

Posted by James Ferre on 10th September 2008

A test of packaged ham bought from supermarkets found nearly all had been pumped up with added water, consumer advocates CHOICE reports. The claims have since been queried by the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

The consumer body’s analysis of 46 types of packaged ham found most contained chemicals specifically added to retain extra water, including phosphates to increase the water-binding capacity of the meat’s muscle fibres. One-third of the slices reportedly contained 20% or more of added water.

Woolworths Deli Leg Ham had the least meat at 53% and the most added water at 38%, according to the study. Three other packaged hams contained a water content ranging from 23-27% and a stated pork content of between 74-67%.

“It seems that some manufacturers are making extra profits by selling water for the price of meat,” said CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn. “We worked out there were 11 packaged hams where it was costing about $26 per 750 ml for the added water. For that money, ham manufacturers are charging more than some good Aussie vineyards do for sparkling wine.”

CHOICE’s food technology lab measured the overall water content of the ham and then deducted the amount of water that’s a normal component of pork based on the percentage of meat stated on the label.

CHOICE believe that the terms used to describe ham products don’t carry much weight. ‘Champagne’ ham contains no bubbly and ‘English’ ham usually doesn’t come from the UK. “Likewise, while the conventional definition of ham is meat from a pig’s rear quarters, the meat in packaged ham can come from all sorts of parts of the beast’s anatomy,” Mr Zinn added.

CHOICE also reported that they would like to see all produce clearly identified with the country of origin instead of the standard print which reads “made in Australia from local and imported ingredients”.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has disputed the findings, claiming that the study was not consistent with industry standard practice. “The Australian Food and Grocery manufacturing sector is disappointed with the release of consumer group CHOICE’s questionable study into the level of water content in packaged ham products,” AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said in a statement. “The methodology that CHOICE used in its assessment was not consistent with industry recognised standards of analysis for processed meat products and cannot be relied upon to provide consumers with a true representation of products in the market place.”

“The AFGC would welcome the opportunity to discuss industry’s methodology and the rigorous quality assurance programs with CHOICE,” Ms Carnell concluded.