Astral Frozen chicken. Picture: Kim Ludbrook.

The poultry industry has been given a year to adjust its brine levels to a maximum of 15 percent in individually quick frozen (IQF) chicken portions following news that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries plans to amend the regulations.

Brine is a salt solution injected into meat to retain succulence and flavour once the chicken has been defrosted.

In cooking, brining is a process similar to marination in which meat or poultry is soaked in brine before cooking. Brining makes cooked meat moister by hydrating the cells of its muscle tissue.

Poultry producers were notified this week of the government’s intention to limit brine content in IQF portions to 15 percent, down from the level of 30 percent currently allowed.

The change will take effect next year, giving poultry producers 12 months to reduce brine levels.

The poultry industry’s reaction to the proposed amendment was mixed, with some saying this would bring finality to the brine issue and others saying it would have a detrimental impact on the price of frozen chicken.

Astral Foods said there were certain technical flaws in the proposed regulation and these should be taken up with the department.

But chief executive Chris Schutte said Astral did support the regulation and monitoring of brining.


However, Astral said a brine limit of 15 percent was not appropriate and would not be in the best interests of all stakeholders, particularly the consumers of frozen chicken.

“It will have a detrimental impact on the price and affordability of IQF products,” the company said.

Astral could not clarify its statement further.

Stephen Heath, RCL Foods’ group legal and corporate affairs director, said the company was quite happy there was finality in the matter.

“It has been a concern for some time and the finality in the matter makes things better.”

“It also has been a concern that there have been some discrepancies [among] poultry producers in terms of the percentage of brine that has been injected into chickens. We think 15 percent is reasonable and it is slightly more in line with the international standards. It is close to what we think is needed to maintain succulence.”

“The main reason for brining is to maintain the moisture between freezing and defrosting; the idea is to replenish more or less the same amount of moisture,” he said.

He said changes in brine levels would have an impact on the price and weight of IQF portions, but added that the 12-month period was adequate for the industry to adjust.

Kevin Lovell, the chief executive of the SA Poultry Association, said although the ruling would not have much impact on the price of frozen chicken, it would have a negative impact on poultry producers who might have to reduce output.

Although Lovell would not elaborate, it seems that production of IQF portions will become more costly and companies may need to look at other avenues to recover costs.