Salted pork raises health concerns

Experts warn consumers to read food labels


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Consumers who buy pork at Superstore can be forgiven if they say "arrr" in the meat department.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/03/2010 (4592 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Consumers who buy pork at Superstore can be forgiven if they say “arrr” in the meat department.

Since last year, what looks like simply a cut of fresh pork in the meat department, is instead seasoned with salt — and that has pork producers and healthy food advocates wanting the grocery store chain to make the meat walk the plank.

A look at the ingredients, on a sticker that says Butcher’s Choice, prepared for Loblaws, shows it contains “pork, water, sodium phosphate, salt.”

That might have people wondering if it’s the modern-day equivalent of the salted pork fed to both pirates and Royal Navy sailors in centuries past after being preserved for months.

Jennifer Wojcik, a Heart and Stroke Foundation community nutrition manager and a registered dietician, said people should stay away from food laced with salt as much as they can.

Wojcik said Canadians get only 12 per cent of their sale intake from the shaker, with the rest coming from processed and fast foods.

“If there’s another product that doesn’t have the salt added, I’d steer them to that other product,” she said.

“Consumers do need to educate themselves how to read the food labels and know what they’re buying. They should stay away from processed food.”

The concern about the salted pork comes shortly after Statistics Canada released a report saying 19 per cent of Canadians aged 20 to 79, or about 4.6 million, have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.

As well, another 20 per cent of Canadians have blood pressure readings putting them in the pre-hypertension range.

Health advocates say one of the ways people can reduce hypertension or their risk of getting it is by cutting their salt intake.

Craig Ware, a spokesman for Loblaw Companies Ltd., the owner of Superstores, said the Butcher’s Choice pork has been sold in its Eastern Canada stores for the last decade.

Ware, who would only respond by email, said the line of pork was introduced in Western Canada last year “to provide our customers with more options.

“Our customers tell us that Moisture Enhanced Pork tastes more flavourful and remains moist when cooked.”

Ware defended the salted pork, which he said comes from Canadian producers, by saying depending on the cut there are 280 to 340 mg of sodium per 100 g (three ounces) of pork. He said that compares to 482 mg of salt in a half cup of cottage cheese and 325 mg in a single serving of Raisin Bran cereal.

But Bill Jeffrey, the national coordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, which publishes Nutrition Action magazine, wants the store to get the salt out of the pork.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get pork, and in some cases chicken, without added salt,” Jeffrey said.

“At a time when Canadians are consuming on average about double the amount of sodium that is recommended, and we have at least 10,000 people per year die of heart attacks and strokes related to excess sodium, it’s a pretty difficult practice to defend.

“And I don’t know what the purpose of adding sodium phosphate is.”

A drive to the meat section in a nearby Safeway grocery store showed its pork doesn’t have a similar label.

Safeway spokesman John Graham said that’s because his chain doesn’t want to sell pork with added salt in its fresh meat department.

“We’ve been working so hard on building our reputation of having quality meats, we don’t want to risk undermining it,” Graham said.

“Our reputation is quality.”

Kelly Funke, the Manitoba Pork Council’s manager of communications, said there’s no need to put salt in pork.

“To us, in the pork industry, we would prefer to see the fresh meat,” Funke said.

“To season the pork is to, in effect, make it a processed product. But pork is a naturally tender product and quite flavourable.”

Funke said the pork council is so concerned about the practice it will be speaking with its provincial counterparts across the country.

This little piggy went to market…

Facts about pork seasoned with salt:

Seasoned pork is pork that has been processed in brine (salt, water, sodium phosphate) to help it retain moisture even when overcooked.

Sodium phosphate is used to help trap the moisture in the meat, and salt works to help this process.

An average cut of seasoned centre-cut pork chop (100 grams or three ounces) contains 300 mg of sodium.

The same cut of pork, but not seasoned, contains about 55 mg of natural sodium.

The recommended upper tolerable limit for salt for healthy adults is 2,300 mg per day. Canadians aged nine to 50 are recommended to keep their sodium intake below 1,500 mg per day and Canadians aged 51 to 70 are told to keep it below 1,300 mg per day.

— Source: Manitoba Pork

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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