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Op-Ed: Beware of exploding Dutch chicken filets

By Adriana Stuijt     Feb 13, 2009 in Food
Digital Journal nearly lost one of its Dutch correspondents today. I was cooking a 'fresh chicken filet' and the thing exploded in my face because it was, as I found out far too late, vacuum-injected with more than 50% water /beef/soy/cow hide goop.
The water-logged chicken filet reacted so violently with the hot butter in the skillet that the whole thing caught fire, leaving me with a soot-covered kitchen. Scared the living daylights out of me, too, the flash-fire seared my eyebrows and -lashes, and also made me realise - once I calmed down and thought about it, and after examining the remaining filet still in the packaging, that something was most certainly very fishy in the Dutch world of food-packaging if I could buy this rubbish from a Dutch supermarket shelf.
Its origin was labelled as Dutch - but to make certain, I've also sent the remaining filet with its packaging to the Dutch food-safety council by messenger for testing and to establish exactly what was in it and where it came from. And hope they find out why it was so volatile.
It's all my own fault really: I should have bought my fresh chicken filets from my trusted local butcher only a five-minute walk away from my front door. His meat is always very fresh, he can tell you exactly where it came from, it isn't water-logged and whenever he sees you next, he asks you whether it had been to your liking. He cares.
Alas, I was tempted yesterday by the local national supermarket chain's 50% cheaper sales price on their labelled, prepackaged 'fresh chicken filets' - who wouldn't be when your pension is only worth three-quarters of what it used to be a year ago?
I asked my butcher today about that exploding chicken - and he looked deeply concerned. Then he told me about the water-injection meat-packaging plants(see), and also explained that retail trade-butchers like him have a legally-bound code of practice and often are visited by meat-inspectors from the Dutch Trade-butchers Association and from the local health inspectorate. So there 's a strong control mechanism in place to guarantee the highest quality - and these products are labelled with the "K", the trade's Keurmerk labels. They do not inject their meat products with water-goop.
Dutch retail butchers even hold annual contests to elect their very best butchers, and many of these butchers pride themselves on the high quality of their own hand-made sausages. Also, due to the ongoing pressure for more humane livestock practices from Dutch animal-rights activists -- we even have our own animal-rights party -- the Dutch retail butchers also increasingly check out the conditions on the farms where the livestock comes from.
For instance many Dutch retail-butchers are signing up to buy from Westfort, a meat wholesaler which buys non-castrated pork-boars; many also prefer to purchase chickens raised on biological farms rather than the six-week old growth-food raised battery hens. see
However the gigantic Dutch large-scale wholesale meat-packagers don't seem to care - they sell their water-and-blood-injected, dripping products to people they never meet and don't care about. Exporting pre-packaged chicken products has become a huge international business with massive profits.
And clearly, only the large-scale profits count.
Drip-drip-drip, what a bunch of greedy plonkers. I though the authorities had solved this problem, this Dutch food scandal already hit the headlines in 2003, when the BBC's Panorama programme went undercover and found a major problem with the Dutch' large-scale packaging of chicken products, which mostly are exported from the country.
Britain imports more frozen chicken from Holland than anywhere else. It goes into schools, hospitals, restaurants; it's everywhere. The BBC's Panorama programme uncovered the real secret: how they keep the water in. The glue they use is made from animal proteins but not just from chicken, also from the ground up leftovers of pigs and cows, even cow hides from Brazil...
Dutch food inspectors have been trying to stamp out the water-and-proteine injection practice, but it's an overwhelming task, the investigative TV programme Panorama has found. The proteins are hydrolysed and mixed into additive powders which are then injected into chicken meat to hold extra water, thus vastly increasing profits. Tests found that some chicken fillets are as much as 50% added water.
One undercover journalist filmed and interviewed the director of the chicken-packaging company Prowico, Theo Hietbrink, telling them that the injected beef proteins were guaranteed to be "PCR-negative" - polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which is the test authorities use to find DNA from different species. In other words, it's not detectable. That's why inspectors are having such a hard time. He also said that at least 12 Dutch companies were using his new hydrolysed proteins and the original source of this beef are cow hides from Brazil. The company refused to show reporters the process by which the proteins are extracted.
But that was way back in 2003 - surely things have improved since then? Apparently not, if my exploding chicken was anything at all to go by.see
In fact there still are so many complaints about the water-logged Dutch chicken in the UK that the UK Food and Veterinary Office launched a large-scale investigation into the problem. see
Vacuum-injecting and tumbling meat:
They found a widespread problem after inspecting the wholesale meat-packaging plants in The Netherlands where the UK gets most of its imported chicken from. The inspectors of the UK Food and Veterinary Office found that the practice of vacuum-injecting and 'tumbling' meat together with water, blood and liquid proteins such as soy, blood and dairy, are widespread in The Netherlands. And it's not just done with chicken - pork and fish are also given this 'Dutch treat'. see
By law, the wholesale meat-packagers who do this are supposed to label such wares to show that its such contents contain stuff such as H2O, added soy, dairy products , cow hide extract, blood and other yummy goodies - but it certainly didn't show up on the label of the package I had purchased. It proudly proclaimed to be 'fresh chicken filets'. I've lodged a complaint with the local supermarket. They didn't pay me much attention.
I've also sent the other remaining filet in the supermarket package to the Dutch food inspectorate by messenger, hoping that they could shed some light on its peculiar explosive qualities.
The FVO started its large-scale investigation into water-injection practices in the summer of 2008 in the Netherlands. However the Dutch themselves already uncovered another food scam in 2004, when the Dutch Consumer Council discovered traces of cattle DNA in pre-packaged, 'fresh' eels:
It was found that a horrid mixture of watery beef-blood - a waste product from the abattoirs -- was being vacuum-injected into Dutch eels on a massive scale to make them look fatter and heavier. They were selling goopy beef-water inside the eel and since many Dutch consumers smoke their fresh eels at home, especially here in Friesland, the smoking dries them out , so people didn't really notice.
It's an old trick of course: for centuries, butchers used to cheat their customers by dumping meat and poultry into buckets of water. However this only had a temporary effect as the water did not soak into the meat. Usually the abattoirs did this to cheat the wholesalers, but by the time it got to the customer the water would have seeped away.
Nowadays, they have developed techniques in which they vacuum-inject a soup of water, blood, soya, cow hide extract, glue, dairy products into the meat and fish. And then there's tumbling - where meat, usually pork or chicken -- is churned up as a paste in a cement-mixer type tumbler . with a lot of abattoir waste products added to this gloppity-glop machine as it churns.
The goop then is vacuum-compressed into 'ham' or 'chicken filet' shapes and packaged as 'fresh meat' in large supermarket chains.
One would think that this would be illegal in the European Union, which so prides itself on its food-safety that it still is putting up a courageous fight against the all-powerful big-money boys -- the insidious Monsanto lobby's genetically-manufactured food campaigners are pounding on the EU doors, and recently gained a small foothold. But that's another story..
Alas the water-injection and tumbling of meat and fish are not illegal in The Netherlands - provided that such a food parcel is labelled with such contents i.e. soy, dairy products, beef-blood .
But if it's labelled 'fresh chicken filet', as my parcel had been, nothing at all is allowed to be added. that 's the law. In practice it's business as usual. Apparently there's just so many inspectors, and apparently they are able to bypass the most sophisticated testing equipment now, so the cheats don't care to label their product, with these ominous contents - and continue selling it as 'fresh chicken filet' and 'fresh ham'.
Halaal, Kosher customers who buy Dutch prepackaged chicken ...
And you are a Jewish or Muslim customer buying Dutch pre-packaged water-logged chicken filets in a supermarket, but it's against your religion to eat pork. You might be eating pork bits and cow's blood which was injected into your chicket filets, and you'd never know it.
The Dutch Institute for Food Safety, Rikilt, confirmed the findings by the UK Food and Veterinary Office that the water-proteine injection practice is indeed widespread in The Netherlands.
It's no threat to public health, say the Dutch:
They claim however that it's not a threat to public health - unless of course for people with a specific food allergy against say, dairy products. Rikilt doesn't warn hapless consumers who try to cook these water-and-blood soaked 'fresh chicken fillets' in a skillet, that it could explode in their faces, either.
Dutch chicken isn't 100% safe:
Moreover, Rikilt does not tell the entire truth: among the 400-million hens which are raised in The Netherlands annually, power-fed within six weeks and slaughtered, 34% of the chickens examined were contaminated with the campulobacter bacteria, and 7% with salmonella. This came from research by the animal rights organisation Wakker Dier in court testimony on 4 February 2008 to back up their complaint with the Advertising Council. Wakker Dier had challenged a Dutch advertising campaign which claimed that Dutch chickens were '100% safe".
The advertising council agreed that this was false advertising and upheld their complaint see
and see
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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