Watery Food

  • Reporter: Helen Wellings
  • Broadcast Date: August 10, 2009

Everyday meats and groceries are being pumped with water to increase the weight and the price per kilogram.

Water is a natural ingredient in most of what we eat but now it seems manufacturers are flooding their products to make all of us pay more for less.

Nice plump chickens and hams, slabs of red meat, glistening seafood, canned or frozen vegetables and fruit, our daily milk are all food staples.

We may be being cheated every day on sizes and weights. A confusing array of state and federal laws have government departments passing the buck, which allows manufacturers to get away with the amount of water in food.

If water is added to products, then it must be included in the ingredients list, but it does not have to state what the percentage of excess water is.

With the exception of chicken and just recently some seafood, there is no legal limit on the amount of water that can be added to foods.

Christopher Zinn from Choice said some manufacturers could add as much water as they like.

"There are some products out there that are full of water when they need not be," he said.

"We found so-called Champagne hams contained water that cost more than the best possible French Champagne so you are paying more per litre of water in a ham than you would for a litre of very fine Champagne."

It may be just a few extra millilitres or grams but added water in millions of products on the shelves translates into multimillion dollar profit margins for manufacturers and retailers.

Today Tonight commissioned Dr Stephen Morris from Post Harvest Laboratories to test different brands of frozen chickens and frozen vegetables as well as 82 cans of vegetables and fruits to ascertain the amount of added or excess water.

"We've found a chicken has 15 per cent water," he said.

In previous years we conducted the same investigations. Back then, 34 out of 82 cans had more water in them than stated on the label, even more than other previous tests we did.

When Christopher Zinn and the Choice team tested 46 brands and types of packaged supermarket hams all contained extra water added during the curing process.

Fifteen out of 46 hams contained 20 to 33 per cent water.

The worst one was Woolworths/Safeway Premium Lite Shaved Ham, with only 67 meat and 27 per cent added water.

Choice tests found these hams have more than 90 per cent meat with less than 6 per cent water: PRIMO Leg Ham Double Smoked, DANDY Shaved Premium Leg Ham, PRIMO Leg Ham Honey Cured, PRIMO Premium Leg Ham Shaved, COURTWAY Continental Double Smoked Leg Ham and COURTWAY Continental Leg Ham.

Recently, we revealed what we are buying is not 100 per cent milk with up to 12 per cent a watery additive called permeate.

It is a skim milk concentrate which has had the fat and protein removed from it.

Adding it makes milk cheaper for the two big dairy manufacturers.

We are also being short-changed on other commodities like meat and fish.

Low-grade tough meat can be pumped with water to tenderise and enlarge it.

Today Tonight found some samples of rump and rib fillet we bought from so-called value money bulk that have seven times more water content than the Coles and Woolworths meat we tested.

Glenn Pinna from Biotech Laboratories said our watery meats had nothing on the label indicating they had been pumped, apart from "moist and tender".

Quality steak should be firm and pink, the pumped tend to be red and floppy.

"If you are looking at paying $5-$6 a kilo for the meat you are also paying the same for water," he said.

So the tip is to read the label and be aware that a lot of meat, seafood, frozen food and canned food can contain a lot of water.