ATLANTA -- Our Center for Investigative Action reveals something that is perfectly legal, but might take consumers by surprise when buying chicken.
The net weight on the packaging may not actually be the true weight of the product once you get it home.
Georgia's Department of Agriculture received a complaint from a consumer who got home and weighed her chicken breasts, only to discover things didn't add up, that's why we put it to the test.
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Chef Joe Costa, from International Culinary School, at The Art Institute of Atlanta, showed us measurable differences between the net weight on the label and the actual weight of the chicken.
"Usually we call this purge," he said, pointing to the nasty looking liquid spilling out onto the scale.
The purge is the liquid that leaches out of the poultry. Chef Costa knows all about it, having worked for two retail grocery chains.
"That'd be almost half a pound."
What we didn't know, is how much 'purge' can add to the weight.
"That's significant?" asked 11Alive Reporter, Ross McLaughlin.
"Yes," replied Costa.
We purchased 4 large sized packages of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, all with net weights around from 5 to 6 pounds. We wanted to know if the net weight listed on the label was the actually weight of the chicken.
We aren't naming stores and showing brands to be fair since we didn't find any business not following regulations.
According to the rules set out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the net weight can not include the packaging, but it can include the moisture that is absorbed by the chicken during processing. Over time, that moisture is what leaches of the meat and into the absorbent packaging material.
In one case, there was a .7 pound difference in the net weight on the package and the actual weight of the chicken.
"It absorbed all the purge and it's at 11 ounces," Chef Costa noted, as he held up the absorbent material.
All 4 packages had purge, some more than others, and based on the price per pound we paid from $1.31 to $1.94, for something we didn't expect.
"You're getting it, you're just not going to get to eat it," Costa joked.
When a Georgia consumer complained about the low weight of her chicken breasts, just like the products we tested, Georgia's Department of Agriculture did an audit of ten samples from the store. It passed.
But if you don't want to pay for extra liquid in your poultry, you can spot it by looking for labels that say 'may contain 15% chicken broth', or 'enhanced'. But as Chef Costa tells us, some consumers might like their chicken with that broth.
"It tends to be a little forgiving on the cooking, it won't dry out as much."
So again here's the tip, if you don't want to pay for chicken you aren't getting, be alert to the labels, that say may contain 15% chicken broth, or enhanced. Although all the chicken that we tested with, or without the label, did leach moisture that could add to the net weight of the chicken.