PHOENIX -- Grocery shopping. Everyone does it.
While some shoppers focus on brands, others are more concerned about price.
Local butcher Bret Pont said customers keep returning to his shop, Hobe Meats, because of the quality and price of his cuts.
"None of our products have fillers, additives, nitrates or solutions," said Pont, who has been in the meat business for 20 years.
But that's not always the case.
As 3 On Your Side discovered, a lot of the packaged chicken available in grocery stores has been pumped full of sodium nitrate, a liquid consumers have to pay for but certainly don't eat.
Valley resident Terri Morris said she recently realized that little-known fact when she opened a 4.5-pound package of chicken to find that the meat itself only weighed 3.5 pounds.
She asked herself, "Where did that extra pound go?"
"I was outraged because not only did I feel like it was a blatant attempt to fraud me, but I also felt like it wasn't a mistake," she told 3 On Your Side.
3 On Your Side did some shopping and came across chicken that was produced and packaged by Pilgrim's Pride.
In small writing on the corner of the package was the note, "Enhanced with chicken broth."
It's a message some consumers either ignore or don't fully understand.
"I don't think anyone knows about it," Morris said.
All of that broth pumped into the raw chicken eventually drains and is absorbed by the "soaker pad" placed underneath it in the package. This occurs while the meat is being transported from the producer to the grocery store.
By the time the packaged chicken reaches the grocery store shelf, the soaker pad can weigh a lot.
Morris said she was disgusted as she held chicken in one hand and the soaker pad in the other.
"This weighs almost as much as two of these chicken breasts," she exclaimed.
3 On Your Side instructed Morris to weigh the chicken on her kitchen scale. It registered 3.5 pounds. She then did the same with the soaker pad, which weighed in at 1 pound.
Since the chicken was priced at $1.99 per pound, Morris paid about $2 for that soaker pad.
"They owe me two more chicken breasts," she said.
However, pumping liquid into chicken is permitted by the United States Department of Agriculture.
"Manufacturers use solutions to keep meat or poultry moist during heating and to improve flavor," a USDA representative told 3 On Your Side in an email.
Pont said his chicken, however, is moist and juicy without the added broth, nitrates and other liquids.
He believes the real reason some meat producers add the liquid is to intentionally weigh the meat down and ultimately put more money into their own pockets.
"When you're buying a $1.99 (per) pound chicken, then there's a reason why it's so cheap," he said. "It's because they've pumped 20 percent sodium nitrates into it."
Morris said she'll never shop for chicken the same way again.
"I was not looking for this (soaker pad) but it's so heavy, I couldn't help but notice it," she said.
3 On Your Side reached out to Pilgrim's Pride and received the following response in an email:
The issue you describe in your email involves tare weights. In October 2008, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) eliminated the wet tare method used for determining net weight of poultry and meat products purchased by consumers. The wet tare method does not include liquids absorbed into packaging materials or free-flowing in the package as part of the net weight of the product.
USDA now mandates the use of dry tare procedures. This means that the net weight of the product includes all fluid absorbed into the packaging and any free-flowing fluid in the package. Pilgrim’s is in compliance with USDA procedures and product is inspected onsite by USDA staff. Additional information on this policy can be found on the USDA website at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/2008-0015.htm
Additionally, our plants use water during processing to cool the chicken and for sanitation purposes. This will cause some natural pick up of moisture during this process. As chicken ages in the store and nears its expiration date, the product will lose moisture, thus being absorbed by the soaker pad in the packaging. The expiration date on product is generally around ten days after processing but no more than fourteen days. Purchasing a product that is closer to production date and cooking or freezing within 24 hours of purchase can help eliminate some of the excess moisture that will expel from the product.
As always, we strive to deliver a wholesome, quality product that exceeds our customer’s expectations. We will continue to monitor our practices and comply with the all applicable regulations as set forth by the government agencies that regulate our industry.