Chicken ‘plumping’: One part hype, three parts salt

Remember that healthy chicken dinner you whipped up the other night? The one made with “100 percent all-natural” chicken?

Bad news: It could have had as much salt as an order of McDonald’s fries. And to add insult to injury, you paid too much for it.

Here’s why: During the “plumping” process used by some poultry purveyors, various additives and good ol’ saltwater are injected into the birds to make them bigger. Then the birds are labeled “all natural” and priced accordingly. The consumer ends up with a salt-sodden bird and a per-pound price that includes a lot of water.

Chicken wranglers who raise and sell healthy, un-plumped birds are understandably peeved about these labeling practices. The well-known Foster Farms folks have been making a lot of noise, saying it’s time to shore up the loose labeling regulations that allow companies to misrepresent foods as healthy alternatives.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest has raised its voice a bit too. (After all, nagging people to lower sodium levels isn’t going to work very well if unnaturally salted, bloated chickens are being passed off as healthy stuff.)

Now the matter is getting more air time and column inches: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), has called for the USDA to tighten such food-labeling regs.  Boxer, who represents a huge agricultural constituency, goes to bat regularly on food-related issues, and has a knack for cutting through process and making real change. Wisely, the emphasis from her corner seems to be on the false-weight issue, which will probably get the plumpers out there in line faster than arguing about the salt levels.

–Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett


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