By Markson Omagor
Last week, a video went viral in which a concerned Ugandan filmed Chicken roasters in Kampala injecting raw chicken meat with unknown substances.
The amateur video indicated that the act was being done in Busujju in Kampala City on chicken meet shortly before being put on fire for roasting. The concerned Ugandan said the chicken that was originally small, expanded when put on fire.
My research has indicated that the practice of injecting raw chicken meat is called plumbing. Whereas it may be new in Uganda, the practice is very common in Europe having started as early as 1970.
Plumping, also referred to as “enhancing” or “injecting,” is the process by which some poultry companies inject raw chicken meat with saltwater, chicken stock, seaweed extract or some combination thereof.
The practice is most commonly used for fresh chicken and is also used in frozen poultry products, although other meats may also be plumped.
Poultry producers have injected chicken (and other meat) with saltwater solutions since the 1970s, claiming it makes for tastier, juicier meat.
According to Kenneth McMillin, Professor of Meat Science at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, processors use multiple-needle injectors or vacuum-tumblers that force the sodium solution into the muscle.
Binding agents in the solution prevent the added salt and water from leaching out of the meat during transport, in grocery stores and during cooking.
Cost to consumers
Plumped chicken commonly contains 15% of its total weight in saltwater, but in some cases can contain as much as 30%. Since the price of chicken is based on weight, opponents of the practice estimate that consumers could be paying additional shillings for added saltwater.
A serving of plumped chicken can contain between 200 mg and 500 mg of sodium per serving, which is more than 25% of the recommended daily sodium intake.
Non-plumped chicken generally contains 45 to 70 mg per serving. In January 2010, the American Heart Association released new guidelines calling for all Americans to reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 mg (equivalent to 3.8 g of salt) from 2,300 mg.
Previously, 1,500 mg was the recommended limit for higher-risk individuals only. In a current study, research has shown that reducing salt intake by three grams a day would decrease new cases of heart disease by one-third each year.
This would reduce heart disease- related deaths by an estimated 100,000 annually, and save up to an estimated $24 billion in annual health costs, according to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Bibbins-Domingo of UCSF, who led the study for the New England Journal of Medicine says, “Reducing salt intake could be as beneficial as quitting smoking, weight loss, and using cholesterol medication.
In a June 22, 2009 Los Angeles Times article, Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, noted that “the practice of saltwater plumping adds unnecessary salt to people’s diets, and it also increases the water weight of chicken.
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.
Not only has plumping been contributing to an increase in our sodium intake, but the practice has been robbing poultry purchasing consumers blind. Plumping makes up 15%-30% of the weight of the chicken you buy.
Salt water and chlorine isn’t the only thing going into your chicken. Phosphate additives are also injected into poultry as a preservative. Research has found that not only are the phosphates a probably arterial toxin, but they also seem to encourage bacterial growth that causes food poisoning.
Plumping of chicken also causes food poisoning through Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacterium commonly found in the gut of warm-blooded organisms.
Most strains of E. coli are not harmful but are part of the healthful bacterial flora in the human gut. However, some types can cause illness in humans, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and sometimes vomiting.
Some other types of E. coli infection can lead to urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and other illnesses like meningitis.