Everything you need to know about Israel’s meat industry – a consumer report.
This article is based on a report which was broadcast on Israel Channel 10 Television on Monday 2nd June, 2014
The Israel Channel 10 television program – Kolbotek, presented by Rafi Ginat, it is a program that deals with and investigates consumer related issues. Kolbotek has been running on and off, for a number of years and in the past it has looked into a number of food related topics including the tahina and olive oil industries.
The June 2nd, 2014 broadcast was based on an investigation of the meat industry in Israel. The specific subject under discussion was the difference between fresh meat, frozen meat and processed meat.
Please note that this article is not an official translation or a word-for-word transcription of the program. This article has been compiled as a general overview for the Israel Anglo community who may have missed the program or who do not fully understand the Hebrew language.
At its outset the program raised certain points and posed a few questions:
- Most of us eat meat, but do we know what we are really buying? For example if you want to purchase entrecote steak for your family, do you know if it is really fresh?
- The retail price of fresh entrecote is between 120 – 160 shekels/kg. If you are buying entrecote at 70 shekels/kg, that is a red flag.
What Israel defines as ‘fresh meat’
- In Israel, fresh meat is defined as meat that has no additives whatsoever; no water, chemicals or additives of any description nor has it undergone any physical or mechanical processing of any kind.
- Frozen meat is defined as fresh meat (as per the definition above) that has been frozen.
- Processed meat refers to meat that has had water added to it. This is a necessary part of the process in the manufacture of sausage and it is allowed in order to give shape to the end product. No other additives, dyes or chemicals are allowed.
- The Hebrew term used by Kolbotek for meat not conforming to any of the above 3 categories was “ziyuf / זיוף” or fake.
- Meat that has been processed i.e. has had water added to it, must be clearly labeled as – “me’u’bad/מעובד“.
Fresh, frozen or processed meat
Samples of meat were collected from supermarkets across the country and sent for inspection to a world renowned food laboratory in Germany.
Some meaty facts
- In spite of the growing trend towards vegetarianism and veganism, 11 percent of our calorie intake, in Israel, still comes from meat.
- Meat in Israel is considered to be very expensive when compared to other countries. Most families cannot afford to eat fresh meat even once a week in Israel.
- The climate in Israel is harsh and dry therefore growing cattle for beef is very expensive.
- The cost of ritual slaughter and inspection for Kashrut purposes adds another 10 – 15 per cent to the price tag.
- Poultry is much cheaper in Israel and is therefore more popular.
The per capita consumption of meat in developed countries is as follows:-
- Argentina: 54kg/per year per person
- Australia: 56kg/per year per person
- USA: 41kg/per year per person
- Uruguay: 40kg/year per person
- Brazil: 33kg/per year per person
- Israel: 18kg/per year per person
Meat is more than a 5 billion shekel per year industry in Israel
Most frozen meat in Israel comes from South America and Australia
Large quantities of meat are coming through to Israel from the Palestinian Authority and these are being sold to small supermarkets and restaurants.
How can we tell the difference between fresh and frozen meat?
- Frozen is cheaper, fresh is tastier!
- Frozen meat is about half the price of fresh meat.
Frozen meat used to account for 2/3rds of the meat consumption in Israel. Today the consumer prefers to buy fresh meat. 52 per cent of Israel’s population eat fresh meat while 48 per cent continue to eat frozen.
The processing of meat, in any form, affects the structure of the meat and its nutritional value i.e. chemical additives, mechanical processing, freezing and defrosting all have an effect on the meat.
The Kolbotek team went to different supermarkets and found that frozen meat was being sold as fresh meat and processed meat was also being sold as fresh meat.
A member of the Kolbotek team went undercover. He was accepted to work at one of the large meat processing plants and this way the meat processing was filmed and parts of the report compiled.
The program then goes on to show how large chunks of meat are processed.
Phosphates, in powder form, are combined with water. The phosphate powder (which resembles talc) is packed under the label STPP or to you and me, Sodium Tri-phosphate.
According to Wikipedia:-
“Sodium tri-phosphate is an inorganic compound with formula Na₅P₃O₁₀. It is the sodium salt of the polyphosphate penta-anion, which is the conjugate base of triphosphoric acid.
- Formula: Na5P3O10
- Density: 2.52 g/cm³
- Molar mass: 367.864 g/mol
- Melting point: 622 °C”
Also from Wikipedia:
The use of STPP in detergents
“The majority of STPP is consumed as a component of commercial detergents. It serves as a “builder,” industrial jargon for a water softener. In hard water (water that contains high concentrations of Mg2+ and Ca2+), detergents are deactivated. Being a highly charged chelating agent, TPP5- binds to dications tightly and prevents them from interfering with the sulfonate detergents.“
The use of STPP in food
“STPP is a preservative for seafood, meats, poultry, and animal feeds. It is common in food production as E number E451. In foods, STPP is used as an emulsifier and to retain moisture. Many governments regulate the quantities allowed in foods, as it can substantially increase the sale weight of seafood in particular. The United States Food and Drug Administration lists STPP as “generally recognized as safe.”
Let us be reminded here that the definition of fresh meat in Israel is that it contains no additives whatsoever and has not undergone any processing of any type including the addition of water and that the addition of water is allowed for the manufacture of sausage. Once water has been added, the meat has to be labeled as “processed”. Kolbotek again emphasize the difference in the retail price of fresh and frozen meat.
Now, back to the processing plant and the scenes filmed by the undercover reporter.
The program shows how STPP powder is mixed with water. This mixture is connected to pump which feeds the white liquid into a machine. The machine, which looks a bit like a conveyor belt, has a head with hundreds of needles. These needles, filled with the white liquid are repeatedly injected into the meat. This process lasts for 3 minutes.
The meat comes off the conveyor belt machine and is placed into a second machine called a tumbler. The tumbler looks like a giant washing machine. The tumbler is then filled with the white liquid – STPP and water – and the meat tumbles in the white liquid for some time. In this way more STPP and water are absorbed by the meat. This tumbling process is gentler than the process of injection.
Until now, most of the Kolbotek program dealt with beef. Now the subject of poultry processing is brought up. Some parts of the de-boned chicken also undergo the tumbling process.
According to Kolbotek, STPP is not allowed to be used in the food industry however we remind you that Wikipedia states that many governments regulate the quantity of STPP when used as an additive to food and that the American Food and Drug Administration recognizes STPP as being safe for use in the food industry.
Once the beef and poultry have been processed in the tumbler, the meat is stored in large plastic vats for some time. These vats also contain the STPP and water mixture. In these vats the meat will absorb more STPP and water.
Samples of beef fillet and entrecote were collected from 3 different supermarket chains. The samples were sent under supervision and according to strict regulations to a food laboratory in Germany. The laboratory is able to detect any additives or processing of any kind.
- Sample 1: The results of a sample of entrecote being sold as fresh meat for 130 shekels per kg in a supermarket, showed that it contained phosphates and Vitamin C. Vitamin C is used to preserves the freshness and color of meat. There was more Vitamin C than normal – 65 percent more! The Vitamin C has no other purpose as it is destroyed by heat.
- Sample 2: Entrecote bought for 70 shekels per kg was found to contain phosphates and excessive water.
- Sample 3: Entrecote bought for 70 shekels from another meat manufacturer was found to contain phosphates.
- Sample 4: The butcher at the supermarket where sample 4 was taken from, told Kolbotek that the 70 shekel/kg piece was fresh meat. The laboratory results showed that the meat was not fresh as the water levels were too high.
- Samples 5 and 6: This entrecote being sold as fresh meat for 119 shekels per kg and 149 shekels per kg and it was found to contain phosphates and nitrates.
- Sample 7: High level of phosphates and 1,650% more than normal Vitamin C levels
- Sample 8: Water content – 15.6% and 5,800% more Vitamin C
Some Good News!
- Sample 9: Frozen entrecote bought for 105 shekels per kg – no additives
- Sample 10: Fresh entrecote bought for 128 shekels per kg – no additives
- Sample 11: Fresh entrecote bought for 149 shekels per kg – no additives
Fresh meat cannot be cheap. Expect to pay between 90 – 160 shekels per kg for fresh meat.
Ministry of Health regulations do exist. Contravention of the laws and regulations is punishable however, real supervision does not exist. The meat industry is getting away with selling processed meat as fresh meat.
How to tell if the piece of meat I am buying is fresh?
- Fresh meat is usually paler in color. Processed meat is usually darker in color.
- Do the finger test:
- Push your index finger into the cut of meat
- If the meat returns to it usual state after you have made an impression with your finger i.e. the meat bounces back, the meat is not fresh – it has been processed.
- The impression of your finger will remain in fresh unprocessed meat.