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Chicken brine to stay capped at 15%

Pretoria - The amount of brine to be injected into chicken will remain capped at 15 percent starting from October 22.

This is after the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, yesterday turned down an application by the South African Poultry Association asking that regulations regarding the cap of 15 percent brine in chicken be reviewed and set aside.

File picture: Sxc.hu. Credit: SXC.HU

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries introduced new regulations, due to kick in on October 22, to control the amount of brine in chicken.

In February 2011, the department issued a notice referring to the abuse by a producer injecting excessive quantities of brine into chicken. In some instances this ranged from 30 percent to 60 percent in individual quick frozen portions.

The department regarded the abuse as a threat to consumer safety and asked the Agricultural Research Council to probe the brine injection of chickens.

Interim results indicated an excessive loss during defrosting and cooking. It was also found that brine injection resulted in elevated salt levels that could cause a risk to consumers.

It was explained to the court that brine, in its simplest form, was a salt water solution used to preserve vegetables, fish, meat and poultry for long periods of time. It can also be mixed with other flavourings such as spices to enhance the taste.

The most common method among South African producers of brining individually quick frozen chicken is by injection.

Until the new regulations were promulgated in April, there was no brining limit imposed regarding individual chicken portions. These regulations will give the producers six months to adapt processes they were following in brining chicken.

Judge Hans Fabricius said it was common that brining introduced a range of benefits, including enhancing the texture of the meat, and made frozen chicken juicier. If done responsibly, brine chicken was not unhealthy.

The chicken association said it had no difficulty in principle with the regulation of brining and a cap for chicken portions. It, however, said the minister did not act lawfully in making the regulations.

In this regard, it was said that there were no scientific basis for the brine cap and there was no consideration of the economic impact of the brining limit.

Judge Fabricius referred to the fact that he only had to determine whether the correct procedures were followed in implementing the brine regulations. The court was told that of the 13 main stakeholders in the poultry industry, only two were opposed to the brining cap for chicken portions.

The department said it needed to look at controlling the brining levels. Most of the responsible, bigger producers have ensured that the process of brine injection is done in a controlled manner which enhanced the flavour.

But unfortunately there were irresponsible operators who abused the brining process. Some poultry was brined up to 40 percent, resulting in a poor quality product, the court was told.

Judge Fabricius said the minister granted producers a window period of six months to get their brining house in order before the new regulations came into force.

This was reasonable and he could see no reason to further suspend the regulations.

He also found that the minister made an informed decision, after considering all the facts, that the brining must be capped at 15 percent.

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