Chicken sold in restaurants and takeaways may contain as little as 54 per cent meat despite labels claiming more.
A joint inquiry by the Food Standards Agency and 22 local authorities across Britain found almost half the samples tested contained less chicken than the packaging claimed.
Companies, mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium, add water, salts, flavourings and, in some cases, hydrolysed protein, to chicken as it is processed for the catering trade. The practice is perfectly legal but has the effect of adding weight to the meat because more water is retained when it is cooked.
In the worst case of the practice uncovered by the investigation, a 100 gram portion of chicken breast was sold as 182 grams.
The five-month probe, involving trading standards departments from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, looked at the added water and hydrolysed protein content in frozen chicken breasts sold to the catering trade. Of the 68 samples collected by enforcement officers, 31 had meat contents which were between 5 per cent and 26 per cent less than the packaging claimed.
Evidence of hydrolysed protein – which is not harmful to health – was found in 24 per cent of the samples. Two samples tested positive for pork DNA, with the mostly likely source being the added protein.
Three British importers – two in Hull and one in Worcestershire – have already been prosecuted over the mislabelling of chicken for the catering trade, but more cases are now expected.
The Food Standards Agency chairman Sir John Krebs said: "This investigation has already shaken this market, with some suppliers withdrawing their products and changing their production processes."Reuse content