What’s your beef? Read the la­bels

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - This Week You’re Saying... - WENDY KNOWLER

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.

CON­TACT WENDY: Email: con­[email protected] Twit­ter: @wendy­knowler Face­book: wendy­knowl­er­con­sumer

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

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