Every week, Wendyl Nissentakes a readily available packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.
Most families buy a bit of sliced or shaved ham to put in sandwiches each week. But when it comes to ham you definitely get what you pay for. This pack as stated on the packaging is a "value affordable freshness" product which sells for $1.23 per 100g (if you take advantage of the "2 for $5") special.
A reader wrote to me with some concerns about the product:
"I pulled a sliver of translucent Countdown 'Value' Shaved Ham from the packet. I noticed it was wringing wet. I was adding it to my son's packed lunch. I tried some, it tasted awful (he likes it) and nothing like ham, so I read the label ... 50 per cent Pork. 'Wow', I thought to myself, 'is that legal? And what is the other 50 per cent? Wendyl will know ... or want to know, I hope."'
I can answer the first question - yes it is legal to only provide 50 per cent pork in a meat product - technically this product could be called a sausage with this much meat in it.
But we need to see what else makes up the remaining 50 per cent:
Pork (50 per cent)
The fact that this shaved ham contains only 50 per cent pork is quite distressing because it means half of the shaved slices of ham are made up of something else. The good news is that nowhere on this pack can I find the words "processed meat", which would mean that along with pork would be what is known as meat trimmings which can be what's left over when main cuts are boned and trimmed such as skin and ears. So we can assume that what little pork is in here is actual pork meat. The absence of the words "free range" and "100 per cent New Zealand Pork" means that we can also assume the pork is sourced from caged animals and/or pork imported into New Zealand from other countries.
This ham is very wet and as the second ingredient on the list we know that other than pork, the largest ingredient is water.
This is a starch made out of potatoes. When you crush raw potato a milky substance comes out of them which is starch. This is then dried and the starch is used in foods such as this, probably as a thickener.
This product, like most hams, is very high in salt. One 50g serve will give you 650mg of sodium. It is recommended that most people consume between 920mg and 1600mg of sodium each day.
Not a lot of sugar in here and it is probably here as a flavouring.
Mineral salts (451, 452, 341)
Sodium triphospate (451) polyphosphate (452) and calcium phosphate (341) are used in foods as a preservative to keep meat tender and moist.
This is usually included in ingredient labels because it is in the product to bulk up its fibre content and make it healthier. There is no listing for fibre on the nutritional information so this will be in here simply to fill out the remaining 50 per cent of each ham slice which isn't pork.
Vegetable gum (407)
This is carrageenan, a gel extracted from seaweed, and will be in here as a filler. It also has concerns from health activists because it can be an intestinal irritant and the joint Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation expert committee on food additives advises it be kept out of infant formulas.
This is sodium erythorbate which, when used as an antioxidant, is structurally related to vitamin C. It helps improve flavour stability and is sometimes used instead of sulphites for processed meat products as it is considered safer and removes carcinogenic nitrosamines.
Acidity regulator (331, 325, 262)
These are sodium citrates, sodium lactate and sodium acetate which are in the ham to control the pH levels. If they aren't controlled this can result in undesirable bacteria developing.
This is sodium nitrite, which has enjoyed a controversial past and is avoided by healthy eaters. It is used to inhibit the growth of the bacteria which cause botulism and as a colour fixative. But there is concern that it reacts with stomach acid to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds during digestion. A new study has found that adults who consumed the highest amounts of nitrate and nitrite were almost 30 per cent more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who consumed the lowest amount of the compounds. I am told it is impossible to make a ham without it, although recent reviews of processed meats such as Heller's Free Farmed Country Pork sausages use sodium metabisulphite (223), which when it comes to preservatives is a healthier option than sodium nitrite.
Smoke flavour is achieved by burning wood chips or sawdust which produces smoke which is condensed into solids or liquids. The flavouring is deemed safe for human consumption, however the European Food Safety Authority is testing some smoke flavours after animal testing showed that it can damage DNA, the genetic material in cells.
To be fair, many of the ingredients in here are found in many hams such as smoke flavour, carrageenan and mineral salts. The one thing it doesn't have, though, is colour, which is great.
But you are not getting much real food in this product and you can see that because the slices are in the shape of a neat circle and do not for one moment resemble anything sliced off a leg of pork.
I also dispute the "freshness" claim on the packaging. This product had a use-by date six weeks out from the day I bought it. Nothing fresh lasts this long.
Instead you are far better off paying a little extra for champagne ham, sliced at the deli counter. Champagne simply means that the bone has been removed from the ham leg which is a superior product - thus the use of the word champagne. This will cost you $1.70 to $2.20 per 100g depending on freshness. It doesn't have preservatives so has a fast shelf life and most supermarkets will discount it when it is near the end of its days. Some also offer a free range product.
I can't guarantee that some of these ingredients won't be in this ham but its resemblance to a slice of meat is a great indicator that it is closely related to real food, rather than the stuff in this pack.
* 50 per cent pork, the rest is made up of fillers and additives.
* Uses sodium nitrite as a preservative rather than a safer option.
* Does not contain added colour.
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