Answer: When the package tells you exactly what portion of the contents isn’t food.
Chicken is a prime example.
Virtually all packaged grocery store chicken says the poultry “retains up to” three, five, seven or even fifteen percent water. It’s almost impossible to find grocery store chicken that does not announce this somewhere right on the label.
So how does the water get in there? Do you think some chickens are bred to be 97% chicken and 3% water, while others bred to be 85% chicken and 15% water?
Chicken is always 100% chicken until it’s adulterated. The amount of water forced into chicken meat is a function of just two things: 1) the manner in which it’s processed and 2) how greedy the producers and grocery stores are.
Chicken producers intentionally add water during processing to make the chicken look juicier, weigh more and fool consumers into putting a whole lot more moola in their pockets.
The strategy appears to be working great, and our friendly neighborhood grocery stores gladly go along with the scheme and sell you adulterated chicken, every day.
When stores charge $1.49 a pound for chicken that contains “retained water” from processing, you are paying them $1.49/pound not just for chicken, but for the water they pump into it, too. If the store charged you the same price for bottled water, you’d be paying $13.41 per gallon.
If fact, you ARE paying them that amount for water. The only difference is, it’s water in a chicken and not in a bottle.
So City Market, Albertsons, Safeway and, yes, even Sprouts Farmers Market are all playing a particularly nasty trick or treat on their loyal customers (although Sprouts does offer a brand of unadulterated chicken for a much higher price while the other markets don’t offer any options). Oh, sure, the markets distract you by putting lots of other feel-good things on the label, like “100% Natural” (of course water is “natural), “Hatched, Raised and Harvested in the U.S.,” “No added hormones,” and other comforting phraseology that serves to distract people from the fact that they pump chicken full of water.
It is a great marketing tactic, and it seems to be working extremely well, because customers never seem to ask the butchers or market managers why they are getting so much water in their chicken instead of getting just real, unadulterated 100% chicken when they buy chicken. Customers keep forking over huge prices to grocery stores for watered down chicken while putting less and less real food on their table.
And as long as the store tells you right up front there on the label what you’re really buying, they’re home free and can’t be accused of fraud.