Is your grocery store's meat scale accurate?

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- When it comes to reading labels on packaged meats, you'd expect them to be fairly accurate, right? But as our investigation found, that's not always the case. Plus there seems to be some confusion as to what you're actually paying for.

Weight and price labels are pretty easy to read. But we found what's written on the labels may not always be accurate, leaving you paying more for less.

Sandra Garcia is all too familiar with her grocery spending habits.

"Meat's like the most expensive thing out of everything I buy," said Garcia.

But when it comes to purchasing packaged meats, there's a misconception many consumers don't understand.

"I know packages is included in that weight," said Gwen Redman.

But that's not accurate, according to the state of Texas. Packaging, plus wrapping and the absorption pad should NOT be included in the total weight. However, some meats like chicken are allowed to include excess fluid.

"As consumers, sometimes we don't understand of how that enhancement of chicken broth and chicken breast affect the weight of that package," said Texas Department of Agriculture inspector Stewart Strnad.

He adds that excess fluid is allowed to be included in the total weight only if the package states it.

"That fluid's part of the weight that's labeled on there because it makes that statement it's enhanced, say 15 percent, chicken broth," said Strnad.

And to make sure you get what you pay for, the TDA has nearly 80,000 scales across the state registered with them. However, Commissioner Sid Miller says a percentage of those are not in compliance.

"Eighty-thousand scales, 4 percent -- that's 3,200 scales -- that are cheating Texas. That's serious," said Miller.

We wanted to see if we could find any packages of meat for sale in the Houston area that did not seem accurate. We randomly weighed approximately 40 packages of meats across six grocery store chains, placing them on this digital food scale which the TDA tested and deemed was accurate within an 1/8 of an ounce. We found almost all of packages were accurate, with only two exceptions. Two of the 15 packages of chicken we tested at two different Kroger stores weighed less than the amount stated on the label, which said it included enhanced fluids.

The label says there are 5 pounds of chicken in this package. The scale says just 4 and a half pounds. Pulling the chicken out of the package, the actual weight was 3 pounds 13 ounces.

Another package of chicken from a second Kroger store did not add up to the stated weight. This label says 3.21 pounds. But when we weighed the chicken only, it was 1 pound and 15 ounces.

When we presented our findings to the Texas Department of Agriculture, Strnad had this to say: "Definitely a red flag."

While those two packages didn't add up, all of the other packages we tested at the four Kroger stores we visited were accurate.

We reached out Kroger for a comment and the company told us in a statement:

"We are confident in our products and services. With the nature of this study, there are multiple factors from supplier to end-user that could have influenced the results.

"Suppliers are responsible for meeting the stated weight at their USDA-inspected facilities."

If you want to be certain you are getting what your are paying for, have the package weighed by the butcher. It should be slightly heavier than the label indicates. The state says in our test, the supplier is at fault, not the stores.

You can report problems like these to the Texas Department of Agriculture.
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