What’s your beef? Read the labels
If you Google the term “ground beef”, the top hits will be about the massive recall of raw ground beef which began in the US in October by that nation’s larger beef processor because of salmonella contamination.
In the US, ground beef is what we call beef mince – 100% minced beef with no additives.
The term ground beef can be found in many recipes, but if you go looking for it in SA, what you'll find in the supermarket fridges will not be 100% beef.
Get this – there is no legal definition for ground beef, but to local butchers, ground beef is what they call beef mince to which they’ve added a bunch of cheaper fillers and quite a bit of water.
But you have to turn the pack over and scrutinise the ingredients list to get the details.
Riëtte de Kock, who is an associate professor in the University of Pretoria’s consumer and food science department, and thus knows a lot more about meat technology than most of us, was in a hurry when she bought a pack of ground beef from Food Lovers Market last week, so she didn’t look too closely at it until she got home.
That’s when she spotted the words “Tomato & Onion Flavour” in small font under- neath “Ground Beef”.
And then she tweeted: “I thought I bought beef mince, only to discover contained only 68% beef. #readlabels What is this product?”
The industry calls it an “extended” meat product – meat bulked up with cheaper ingredients; in this case water, wheat cereal, soya, salt, sugar, tomato powder, spices, preservative and onion flavouring.
It explains why it was selling for about R50 per kg, versus beef mince’s R80 per kg.
“I had family coming over for dinner, so I used the ‘ground beef’ – which looked very like mince – to make meatballs, adding only onion.
"I must admit they were delicious. There is definitely a place for a more affordable mince product such as this, but it should be very clearly la- belled – most South Africans have no idea that in this country ground beef means beef with fillers.”
The health department’s food labelling regulations stipulate only that if words such as “lean” or “trim” are used on a meat label, the fat content of the meat must be less than 10%, and “extra lean” products must have a fat content of less than 5%.
Mirella Gastaldi, Food Lovers Holding’s group legal adviser, said the group’s ground beef labels complied with the food labelling regulations in terms of allergen declaration, stipulating wheat and gluten.
“The lack of a legal definition for the composition of ground beef has unfortunately lead to consumers not understanding the difference between ground beef and minced beef, and this is fuelled by the use of ‘ground beef’ to denote minced meat in the United States and in a lot of online recipes and cook books,” Gastaldi said.
The good news is that the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries is aware of this confusion, Gastaldi revealed.
“We have recently been informed by the Consumer Goods Council that the department drafting regulations governing the classification, packaging and marking of raw processed meat products.
“As we understand it, these draft regulations have not yet been published for public comment, but once they come into force we should hopefully have a legal classification for minced meat products and ground beef products that will help educate consumers on the difference between the two products.”
In the meantime, Food Lovers Market is going to re-design its label to help consumers distinguish between the two and reduce the possibility of consumers buying ground beef when they intended to buy beef mince, as in De Kock’s case.
“We recently ran a pilot project in our Western Cape stores where we placed a prominent declaration on the label of our ground beef declaring the presence of soya in the product – in addition to declaring it in the ingredients list,” Gastaldi said.
“It proved successful and as a result we will be re-designing our ground beef label .
“The labels will be rolled out to all our stores nationally.”
•Happily the labelling of wors has nothing to do with a butcher’s whim – there’s a world of difference between boerewors and braaiwors, both terms being strictly regulated.
By law, boerewors must have a meat content – beef with lamb, pork or a mixture of the two – of no less than 90%, and a fat content of no more than 30%.
It may not contain any offal, except in the casing, and absolutely no mechanically recovered meat, which is a not-soyum mixture of pulped muscular tissue, collagen, marrow and fat.
The only permitted additives are cereal products or starch, vinegar, spices, herbs, salt “or other harmless flavourants”, permitted food additives and water.
If you see the word “braaiwors” on a pack, at an apparently good price, don’t assume you’re getting a boerie bargain – it’s called braaiwors instead of boerewors because it’s a lot less meaty. Legally, braaiwors may contain up to 40% soya.
If you want the best wors, go for the boerie.
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TEMPTING DISPLAY: While most consumers assume ground beef and minced beef are the same product, there is a huge difference in what is included in ground beef – which also explains why it is often cheaper. Always check the list of ingredients if you want to avoid soya products for example and other additives which may cause an allergic reaction