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Department sets percentage of brine on frozen chicken

| Legislation

Finally‚ there’s a legal limit to the percentage of brine - salted water - which can be added to frozen chicken pieces for sale in South Africa: 15%.

It’s a lot less than the industry was hoping for.For years the big players have been injecting chicken pieces with between 25 and 30% brine to create those monster pieces‚ before blast freezing and then bagging them.

And because they are sold by weight in bags‚ and most of that brine seeps out during the cooking process‚ leaving considerably smaller pieces swimming in very expensive liquid‚ controversy has raged over the fact that South Africa’s poorest consumers have essentially been paying chicken prices for water.

It’s known as Individiually Quick Frozen (IQF) chicken‚ and it’s a hugely significant product in South Africa‚ making up 60% of all chicken sold in retail outlets.

Up to now the amount of brine that could be added to frozen chicken has not been legislated.

Minister of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana gazetted the amendment to the Regulations Regarding Control over the Sale of Poultry Meat at the weekend‚ more than a year after proposing the brining limits: 10% for whole birds‚ and 15% for pieces.

The regulations come into effect in October.

A recent study conducted by Maphuti Kutu of Tshwane University of Technology on the effects of different levels of chicken brining injection found that the injection of 5 to 10% of brine improved the succulence and flavour of the chicken but that there was no justification for higher levels.

The SA National Consumer Union (SANCU) is “delighted” that the regulations have finally been amended‚ contending that brining is unnecessary‚ and intended mainly to mislead consumers into buying what appears to be a cheaper product.

“SANCU will be pressing for further reductions in permissible brining levels in future‚” said SANCU’s Dr Clif Johnston.

But the South African Poultry Association (SAPA) is anything but delighted.

“The regulations will render chicken unaffordable for many of the poor‚ shrink the local poultry sector‚ increase unemployment and weaken the outlook for soya bean processing and maize production‚” said CEO Kevin Lovell.

“All the scientific‚ technical and economic information SAPA supplied on brining has essentially been ignored‚” he said. Brining is not a consumer rip-off‚ Lovell insists.

“It restores the meat functionality lost during freezing‚ improves the taste and succulence and makes the product more affordable.”

“If you took brined chicken and cooked it‚ did the same with fresh un-brined chicken‚ and weighed it after‚ kilo for kilo‚ brined chicken is still cheaper than fresh‚” Lovell contends.

“It's a quirk of retail pricing that makes it so.

“SAPA will be contesting this assault on our industry and our consumers in the strongest possible way so that the harm that it will cause to our economy is stopped.”

Astral Food’s poultry division‚ a major player in the poultry industry (Country Fair‚ Festive‚ Goldi‚ Supa Star‚ Mountain Valley) had been hoping the government would settle on a “brine cap” of no less than 20%.

Below that‚ the company predicted‚ prices would go up to the extent that it would no longer be a “value proposition” to the masses.

Rainbow Chickens‚ on the other hand‚ came out in support of the proposed 15% brine cap.

TMG Digital

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