Water in Meat and Poultry

Dec 14, 2015

"Why is all this water in the meat and poultry packages?" "There is so much water in my roast that I can't brown it — it's simmering instead!" "Are they injecting water into chickens?" These are some of the questions that consumers have asked about water in packages of fresh meat and poultry. Here is some background information about water in meat and poultry.

Naturally Occurring Moisture Content of Meat and Poultry

Meat and poultry are composed of naturally occurring water, muscle, connective tissue, fat, and bone. People eat meat for the muscle. The muscle is approximately 75% water (although different cuts may have more or less water) and 20% protein, with the remaining 5% representing a combination of fat, carbohydrate, and minerals. The percentage of naturally occurring water in meat varies with the type of muscle, the kind of meat, the season of the year, and the pH of the meat. Fat in meat is found both between muscles and within muscles. In both locations, fat contributes to overall flavor and juiciness in meats.

Water Content of Meat and Poultry

The amount of naturally occurring water, or moisture, present in meat and poultry may surprise consumers (see chart). An eye of round roast is 73% water before cooking. The same roast after roasting contains 65% water. A whole broiler-fryer contains 66% water before cooking and 60% afterwards. Leaner meat and poultry contain more protein and less fat. Since water is a component of protein (but not fat), a leaner cut will contain slightly more water on a per weight basis.

Enhanced Meat and Poultry Products

Many grocery stores are now offering meat and poultry products that have flavoring solutions added to them. For example, pork chops may be packaged with a solution of water, salt, and sodium phosphate (a solution that can add flavor and moisture to leaner meats). These new products also provide convenience by saving steps in preparation, such as "Teriyaki Beef in Teriyaki Sauce." To prevent confusion, the presence of flavor solutions must be stated on the front of the package.

Enhanced or value-added meat and poultry products are raw products that contain flavor solutions added through marinating, needle injecting, soaking, etc. The presence and amount of the solution will be featured as part of the product name, for example, "Chicken Thighs Flavored with up to 10% of a Solution" or "Beef Steak Marinated with 6% of a Flavor Solution." The ingredients of the flavor solution must be prominently identified on the label. Typically, this information will be on the principal display panel or the information panel.

The labeling term "marinated" can only be used with specific amounts of solution. "Marinated" meats can contain no more than 10% solution; boneless poultry, no more than 8% solution; and bone-in poultry, no more than 3% solution.

In the case of enhanced products, the solutions that are added to the meat or poultry, or into which the meat or poultry are placed for flavoring, seasoning, and tenderizing, are intended to be part of the product. The solutions are required by regulations and policies to be identified as part of the product names of the enhanced products, and whether the solution is incorporated into the product or is free-flowing, it is considered part of the product.

Natural Products

All raw single ingredient meat and poultry qualify as "natural." However, certain products labeled as natural may also contain a flavoring solution provided the solution contains ingredients that are minimally processed and not artificial; e.g., natural flavoring. The amount of solution added to products bearing natural claims is not limited. All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term "natural."

Freezing Meat and Poultry

When meat and poultry are frozen, the water that is a natural component of all meats turns to solid ice crystals. The water expands when it freezes. The sharp-edged crystals push into the surrounding tissue, rupturing the cells. The water that is outside the cell membrane freezes first. As it does, it leeches water from inside the cell membranes. When it thaws, the original balance does not return to normal. The thawed product will have lost some of its natural springiness. The water released during freezing seeps out of the thawing meat and poultry into the package.

The faster meat and poultry freezes, the smaller the ice crystals will be. Smaller ice crystals will do less damage. Products that are flash-frozen by the manufacturer will have superior quality to fresh products frozen by the consumer.

Packaging of Meat and Poultry

Some meat and poultry products are vacuum-packed to prolong the storage times. Products are packaged in air- and leak-proof packages under vacuum, and, in some cases, a specific gas will be pumped into the package to preserve flavor and quality. While the package sits in the refrigerator case, the vacuum is still in effect, extracting the juices out of the meat. Because these packages are airtight and leak proof, the juices accumulate in the package. In contrast, the plastic wrapped packaging, typically used by most supermarkets, allows a certain amount of evaporation.

Cooking Meat and Poultry

In general, the higher the cooking temperature, the more moisture will be lost in cooking. It is not unusual for a beef roast to lose 1/3 of its original size and weight when cooked at a high temperature or cooked too long.


Water in Meat and Poultry Fact Sheet.. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). 2015. Available from: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/meat-preparation/water-in-meat-and-poultry/ct_index.


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