Survey on the fat content in minced meat
Monday 27 September 2004
Food Survey Information Sheet 66/04
The primary aim of the survey was to compare the fat content of minced meat when claims such as 'lean' and 'extra/super lean' were used to the fat content of mince with no claim ('standard' mince), and to the Association of Public Analysts' (APA) advice on the use of these claims.
The fat contents found were also checked against declared fat values, fat claims such as 'typically less than 10% fat' or legal requirements for fat content where names controlled by the Minced Meat and Meat Preparations (Hygiene) Regulations 1995 were used.
A total of 561 samples of fresh and frozen, loose and pre-packed products, comprising 444 (80%) beef, 58 (10%) lamb, 30 (5%) pork, 23 (4%) turkey and 6 (1%) chicken mince samples, were collected from a range of retail outlets and catering suppliers between December 2003 and March 2004. Samples collected were representative of products being sold in the UK marketplace at the time of collection and were analysed for total fat content by 23 Public Analyst laboratories.
A total of 152 (27%) of all the mince types sampled made one of the descriptive claims 'lean' or 'extra/super lean'. For minced beef the fat content range for 'standard' beef mince was 1.9g/100g to 32.3g/100g, for products described as 'lean' it was 4.0g/100g to 15.7g/100g and for 'extra/super lean' it was 1.9g/100g to 17.7g/100g. Thus there was extensive overlap of fat contents between these categories.
Nineteen (40%) of the 48 'extra/super lean' minced beef samples contained more than the 9% maximum fat limit recommended by the APA. Five (2%) of the 233 minced beef samples exceeded the APA's maximum limit of 25% fat for 'standard' minced beef.
From 308 samples that gave nutrition information, 55 (18%) samples had a higher fat content (taking into account allowed tolerances) than that declared in the nutrition labelling panel while 25 (8%) samples were found to have a lower fat content than that indicated. Eleven (9%) out of 116 samples making a claim about the fat content of the form 'typically less than x% fat' had a higher determined fat content than the value specified in the claim. Five (22%) out of the 23 products using the specific designations in the Minced Meat Regulations 1995 exceeded the fat content requirements specified in the regulations.
The survey has shown that claims used to describe minced meat can be misleading or inaccurate. It is clear that action needs to be taken to ensure that products described as 'extra/super lean' meet APA criteria and accurate nutrition information is given.
All findings have been passed to local authorities participating in the survey as well as relevant home authorities. To date, seven of these have taken action and the Agency is encouraging the remaining authorities to do so. In addition, three companies have since made changes to their product labelling.
The Agency now plans to develop, in consultation with stakeholders, clear guidance on use of terms like 'lean' and 'extra lean' on mince. It will also explore the potential for improved rules with the European Commission, who are considering the need for replacement of the current provisions.