Beef mince may be a Kiwi staple, but consumers have little say over how lean or fatty it really is.
Fair Go has been delving into the matter, following its 2015 investigation into the fat content of mince on shelves and the use of illegal sulphites.
The programme looked at the difference between best and basic beef mince and found that fat content can vary greatly depending on where it's been bought from.
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) regulates food standards but that only applies to labelling and composition and they don't specifically set the levels of fat.
New Zealand Food Safety Director of Food Regulations, Paul Dansted, says businesses need to be truthful and not misleading about products, but food standards don't prescribe what is basic, prime or premium.
“That's really much in the eyes of the consumer,” he said.
Both of New Zealand’s major supermarket chains set themselves lean meat targets. The Beef + Lamb quality mark goes on products that are at least 85 per cent red meat.
Meat retailers make their mince from beef trim – off-cuts of meat that are run through a mincing machine. They can get this in two ways – either from a meat processor with high-tech x-ray machinery or instore by butchers, who make a visual assessment of the red meat to fat content ratio.
Fair Go shopped at six different stores around Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland and bought the basic and best beef mince packs available from each and sent them to Eurofins Laboratory to test the fat content.
Both Countdown Te Atatu South and Pak’n Save Sylvia Park were within their targets and didn't raise any flags.
After conducting an additional shop and test on the others, the results revealed that Discounted Meats in Kelston had the fattiest standard mince in both shops - 23% and then 26%.
The store manager told Fair Go if customers had an issue, they'd be willing to make changes but no customers had complained to them.
The Aussie Butcher Mt Roskill ranked the highest in fat for premium mince when averaged across both shops, with 11.8% fat.
Owner Keith Oddy said he was comfortable with the results and that their fat content for premium mince could range from five to 15 per cent and is quality mark certified.
"We’d like to make the point that ‘premium’ does not just point to fat content, but the quality of the ingredients used as well as the eating experience for the customer."
The Mad Butcher Glen Innes also said it was satisfied with the level of fat in its mince, which averaged out at 6.4% fat, and also has the Quality Mark tick.
The lab results revealed an extra, unwanted ingredient in some of the mince. Both Meat World Onehunga’s standard and prime packs tested positive for sulphites and sulphur dioxide.
It’s illegal to add the two food additives to raw ground beef under the Food Act. They can cause allergy-like reactions for some people, including asthma sufferers.
“Mince is a fresh product, it should be used fresh or frozen. But sulphites can be used to mask that and to make it look fresher for longer,” explains MPI’s Paul Dansted.
Meat World’s store manager told Fair Go they didn’t know how sulphites had got into their products and suggested the error was made by their meat supplier. The supplier has since ruled out any possibility of sulphites being used or stored onsite.
Auckland Council and MPI are now investigating Meat World.