What's really in your burger?
Anyone who thinks that prime cuts of beef are lovingly minced, seasoned, shaped into burgers and frozen before being sold for less than 20 cent apiece is fooling themselves. The reality is that many cheap burgers are made with parts of the cow that few would be able to stomach – including its stomach.
The bottom line for many producers of cheap burgers is the bottom line and unless they can be produced very cheaply they will not be produced at all.
One butcher yesterday suggested to The Irish Times that the most costly element of some burgers on Irish supermarket shelves was the cardboard box.
Much of the meat found in bargain basement burgers is mechanically recovered. This is done by forcing carcasses that have already been stripped of most of their flesh through sieve-like devices with a high-pressure air hose. This separates the bone from the scraps of meat. Offal that cannot be otherwise sold is added to the mix before it gets turned into a paste to which bread crumbs and salt are added. Frequently rusk is also included but not before it is pumped with water to create more bulk.
Other cheap filling agents commonly found in burgers include starches, beet fibre, pea fibre and rice flours while chemicals are used to increase the amount of water in the product.
All told, some cheap burgers can be made with just 60 per cent beef with the remainder of each burger being made up of dried onions, beef fat and salt and other “flavour enhancers”.
The beef that is used frequently contains considerably more fat than regular minced beef. One British study found that while the average fat content of minced beef was 16 per cent, the fat content of the beef used in a cheap burger could rise to more than 50 per cent. As a result, up to six teaspoons of artery-clogging saturated fat can be drained from one small burger.
The mislabelling of the burgers in Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Dunnes Stores and Iceland also leaves them open to prosecution by the National Consumer Agency, although given that it arose as a result of an error – the meat processors say they were unaware there was any horse or pig DNA in their burgers – that seems unlikely.