EU officials to draw up official definition of ‘fresh’ on food labels

The EU is currently drawing up an official definition of the term “fresh”, as used on food labels, amid concerns that consumers are buying meat that is much older than it seems to be.

Much of the basted turkey and chicken joints, fillets in sauce or breadcrumbs and packs of chicken sandwiches in shops appears to be fresh. But in reality, meat in ready meals could be many months old, and may have been thawed and frozen a number of times.

The meat is safe but information on labels about its origin is frequently unclear. Lord Rooker, the Food and Farming Minister, backs a campaign to clarify labelling rules so that consumers do not buy a sandwich made from thawed meat when they think it is fresh.

European Union rules give no time limit for use of “fresh” on poultry meat. Chicken may not be frozen then thawed and sold as “fresh”, but this does not prevent meat that has travelled for weeks from being put in supermarket chiller units as if it were from a bird just slaughtered.

Industry chiefs fear that such exports could expand into the fresh raw meat premium market. Officials in Brussels are soon to provide options for a new definition of “fresh”.

The fresh issue

• In 2006 Britain imported 3,500 tonnes of chicken worth £46 million and 232 tonnes of turkey worth £329,000 from Brazil

• There is no time limit for meat to be described as “fresh” on a label. Under EU marketing regulations fresh poultry is defined as “poultry not stiffened by the cooling process”

• A definition for fresh meat in EU sanitation and hygiene rules states: “Fresh meat means meat that has not undergone any preserving process other than chilling, freezing or quick freezing”

• Frozen meat is therefore “fresh” under sanitation rules but not under poultry marketing rules

Source: British Poultry Council