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Health & Legal

  • Dec 05 / 2013
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Health & Legal

The minimum meat content of a pork sausage is only 42%. The equivalent figures for most other sausages are around 30%. These figures are low but they are the legal minimum and most producers will use more meat.

The definition of meat is based on new regulations which came into force in 2003. Broadly, pork can contain up to 30% fat and 25% connective tissue and still be described as meat. Beef and lamb meat can contain up to 25% fat and 25% connective tissue.

Mechanically Recovered Meat (known as MMR) can no longer be described as meat. The same goes for organs such as the heart and tongue. They can still be used but have to be described separately on the label and do not count towards the minimum meat content.

The minimum meat content of a burger is much higher at 67% (or 50% for economy burgers).

These figures mean that a pork sausage can contain less than 30% lean meat!

This is a shocking figure. However we should remember that the vast majority of sausages are made by reputable producers who will use far more meat than the legal minimum. What these figures do is highlight the poor quality and value of some of the ‘economy’ products and the importance of understanding exactly what you are buying…

Additives and e-numbers

Some sausages contain a wide range of additives. These can include:

  • Rusk - to bulk and bind.
  • Water- to hydrate the rusk (and because its very cheap)
  • Polyphosphates - to retain water.
  • Soya - adds bulk and retains fat.
  • Colours - (E100 - E180).
  • Preservatives - (E210 - E239).
  • Sulphites - preservatives to extend shelf life (E220 - E228).
  • Nitrates - to give a pink colour and preserve (E249 - E252).
  • Antioxidants - to prevent discolouration (E306 - E309, E320 and E321).
  • Flavour enhancers - to enhance flavour (E620 - E640).

Watch out for E621 - this is the old favourite monosodium glutamate (MSG). Some might say its good enough for crisps and Chinese take-aways, why not sausages? I would rather let the quality of the meat do the talking!

Not all e-numbers are bad news. Some of the better ones are E322 (lecithin), E300 (ascorbic acid), E306 (vitamin E) and E101 (riboflavin).

The better sausages usually contain few or no e-numbers.

Salt and fat content

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) published a survey on sausages in September 2003. This was based on anlysis of 65 branded sausages. The key findings were:

  • Standard sausages have higher salt levels then when they were last tested in 1991.
  • Brand leader Richmond Irish Recipe had the highest salt content - a portion of it’s sausages contains 35% of an adults recommended daily salt intake.
  • There is a large difference between salt contents - a portion of M&S Premium Pork Sausages or Co-op Butchers Select only contained 15% of the recommended daily salt intake.
  • The sausages with the highest salt content were: Richmond Irish, Walls Thick, Sainsburys Pork, Tesco Pork & Beef, Iceland Pork & Beef, Tesco Vegetarian Lincolnshire and Linda McCartney vegetarian.
  • The average fat content of premium sausages has increased.
  • Overall the average fat and salt content has fallen, this is due to the emergence of reduced fat sausages.


The results of the survey also highlighted the labelling used to indicate fat and calorie contents. This is confusing, some labels give information per sausage, some by weight. Some labels are based on raw sausages and some cooked (either with or without specifying the cooking method). This confusion is unhelpful to consumers because it makes it harder to compare different sausages.

Cooking methods

The FSA looked at the impact of different cooking methods. The figures below are based on an analysis of a basket of standard pork sausages with 50-70% meat content. The principals will apply to all sausages.

Cooking method Calories (per 100g) Fat (g per 100g) Protein (g per 100g)
Grilled (unpricked) 306 19.9 16.8
Grilled (pricked) 284 18.9 14.7
Fried 285 20.8 12.8
Baked 298 19.9 15.4
Barbecued 292 18.1 14.7

This shows that the healthy way to cook sausages is to either prick and grill them or use a barbecue. Unfortunately the prick and grill method will not give you a juicy, succulent sausage.

I was surprised by the calorie content of the fried sausages (second lowest), however they contain the lowest protein and highest fat levels by significant margins.

The clear message is to barbecue sausages more often!

Comparison of categories

The figures below are based on analysis of baskets of sausages in the various categories.

Category Calories(per 100g) Fat (g per 100g) Protein (g per 100g)
Premium (73-95% meat) 296 21.1 19.0
Standard (50-70% meat) 306 19.9 16.8
Reduced Fat (65-68% meat) 162 6.1 16.2
Vegetarian 172 8.9 14.2
Economy (50-53% meat) 242 13.3 13.6

The low calorie and fat content of the low fat sausages explains the 13% growth of this sector in 2003.