The Food Standards Agency has found traces of undeclared pork and beef in some chicken products in an investigation into injection powders used to retain water in chicken breast products used in the catering trade.

But this does not affect fresh chicken sold by supermarkets or butchers, as they cannot have any ingredients, including water, deliberately added to them.

Food manufacturers add water to chicken products for a number of reasons, including to improve the succulence of the meat. Adding water to chicken is permitted, but where the water content is greater than 5%, water must be declared in the name of the food and listed as an ingredient.

The agents used to hold added water in chicken can include salt, phosphates and hydrolysed animal proteins; these are supplied to manufacturers in mixtures as injection powders.

The FSA’s snapshot study looked at a small number of injection powders that claimed to contain only chicken protein. Analysis using a new approach developed under the agency’s authenticity programme indicated that proteins from beef or pork were also present in some of the samples.

Hydrolysed pork and beef proteins can be used as water-retaining agents in chicken as long as they are properly labelled.

Based on its findings, the FSA advises consumers wishing to avoid eating chicken that contains hydrolysed animal proteins to ask the restaurant or takeaway. “Restaurants and catering establishments will have this information available to them, as it will be on the ingredients list of the products they buy.”

The FSA added that there is no evidence to suggest that there is a widespread problem with undeclared proteins in chicken products. But it is carrying out further studies and gathering more information in partnership with other European member states.