Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Fee-fi-fo-fum – I smell the brine of an Englishman

(First appeared in New Era 25 February 2015)

THE column heading is taken from the classic fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk. The correct saying is: Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, Be he live, or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.
In our house, it has become common for us to check the ingredients of the packaged foods we purchase. This is especially important as our baby is breastfeeding and certain foods could cause him an irritation or worse. Believe me, when I say that my wife and I are looking forward to the three-month period when she can once again eat sushi and other “forbidden” foods. The most common forbidden products have been rare or undercooked meats including fish, meat and chicken. The past week, I received a video of slaughtered and de-feathered whole chickens being injected with a solution before freezing and felt I had to investigate further.
I posted the link onto the Namibia Consumer Protection Group on Facebook to get some comments from other consumers. This is the information I received from two contributors:
“It is called brine injection, and it is used mainly on frozen products like fish and chicken and not only to add mass and volume but to extend/improve shelf life as well but this is too extreme as there are certain limitations on how much brine is allowed in a certain product. That chicken is ballooning. The same is done here with our own chickens at NPI but not sure how much percentage is brine!”
“The brining process is done by injecting via multiple needles a brine solution (mild salt solution) of anything between 20 and 25 percent of the actual weight of the chicken before freezing it extremely quickly to prevent this water or brine from escaping the meat. For this, you pay the same price as for the chicken and they then get rich of the weight of the brine solution only because it is of absolute minimal cost… All frozen chicken suppliers do this, even here in Namibia.. It is a rip off for which the consumer must pay!”
I called the telephone number of Namibian Poultry Industries (NPI) and was put through to the Quality Assurance Department. The woman who answered, spoke in Afrikaans and then became very rude when I asked more information about the “brine or water” and the percentage injected in their chickens. She informed me that I was misinformed as it was not brine water, and I should look on their packaging for this information. I explained that my Afrikaans was not that good, but that I was inquiring on whether brine and / or water were injected and what these percentages were. She then put the telephone down and I could hear conversations in the background. After about five minutes the telephone was put down in my ear. Talk about customer service?
My question, in relation to what we as a family are eating, and indirectly what my child is ingesting through breast milk, did not seem to be that much to ask. Obviously, more investigation was needed.
So what is brine? Brine is water strongly impregnated with salt and it can also refer to soaking or preserving in salty water. Soaking your meats (such as lean meat, chicken and turkey) makes the meat juicier and more flavourful.
No customer can complain that ensuring the chicken is juicier and more flavourful is in the benefit of the customer, but is that what the customer is expecting when they purchase the chicken. Surely, with the high prices we pay for chicken we should expect that we are buying chicken and not something that adds flavour – and more importantly decreases the amount of chicken we are buying for our hard-earned dollars?
The end result of this investigation is that my family will be decreasing our intake of “protected Namibian chicken” for the traditional Wambo chicken. Not only is it cheaper on our pocket, but also will decrease the “hidden salt” that we put into our bodies without our knowledge.
And let us be honest, I have now learnt how to brine, and can make a juicier, tastier traditional Wambo chicken than before.
Thank You Namibian Poultries.

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