Plumping, or injecting, as it is called in the industry, has been going on for some time.
In the past five years, this industry process has become the standard. Fresh chicken is injected with a solution of saltwater so it stays juicier and more flavorful (so they say). The solution contains a long list of ingredients that can account for up to 15%, or more, of the chicken’s weight. Some studies have shown up to 30% weight.
Why did the industry start the practice of plumping or injecting? This again goes back to the idea that when you start to remove the fat from the product, you start to lose the taste. When breeders started growing birds with too large of breast meat (more muscle and less fat) this resulted in a dryer, less tasty bird.
A saline injection kept the bird more moist, but this still didn’t help with the flavor, SO “natural flavor” was added in the form of broth, lemon concentrates and corn syrup or other forms of sugar.
Early on sodium phosphate was also added as a binder, to help the chicken retain water during shipping and cooking. To allow for ‘low sodium’ labels, this ingredient was replaced with potassium phosphate. Since potassium phosphate makes meat taste more bitter, even more ‘natural flavors’ were needed to mask the flavor.
You will still find the words ‘All-Natural’ , "Organic" on the label, as long as all the ingredients that they injected into the chicken are legally considered as natural or organic. This doesn’t sound natural to me and I know that this doesn’t sound natural to you.
If you purchase a package of injected chicken for $6, you will likely be paying at least $1 to $1.50 for the salt water solution and you are likely consuming at least 1000 milligrams of added sodium. One chicken breast could eat up 60% of your sodium intake before you even start eating the rest of the meal!
If we look at this on a national scale, it is estimated that consumers are paying $2 billion dollars a year for the salt water that is injected into chickens.
Needle-injected meat has also been red-flagged by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as a high-risk carrier of E. coli. The needles that insert the salt solution can push bacteria on the surface (where bacteria is typically found) deep into the meat, where cooking may not kill them. To prevent this, FSIS recommends (not requires) that processors apply “an allowed antimicrobial agent to the surface of the product prior to processing.” These approved agents include a number of ingredients (and processes such as irradiation) that most consumers would likely find far from “natural.
Organic chicken is also injected. How, you may ask? The USDA and the FDA list water and salt as organic. This allows organic chicken to be injected as well. Keep in mind that a normal chicken breast is only 5 to 6 ounces, anything larger has been plumped.
A chicken breast that is $3.99 per pound and has been plumped means you are paying $1.32 for salt water. This means that chicken breast has cost you nearly $5.50 per pound.