More people than ever are buying prepared food from supermarkets, but how fresh is that food?
A Consumer Reports survey of 63,000 subscribers found that half buy meals at the prepared-food counter. Consumer Reports analyzed the popular dishes and found some surprises.
People looking to save time making dinner have turned supermarket prepared foods into a $29 billion-a-year business. However, Consumer Reports says to be wary.
"These foods aren't required to have nutrition labels. So you might be eating more fat, calories, and sodium than you think," Amy Keating from Consumer Reports said.
Consumer Reports' secret shoppers purchased dozens of popular prepared foods from six major supermarkets and had them analyzed for sodium, calories, fat, and saturated fat.
One thing they found lots of was sodium. A mini turkey meatloaf packed an average of 891 milligrams of sodium in a six-ounce serving. That's the same as you'd get if you ate 11 small bags of Lay's potato chips.
And one cup of a healthy-looking orzo salad averaged 938 milligrams of sodium.
Without a nutrition label, you'd never know that a six-ounce piece of tilapia can have 19 grams of fat.
Some other surprising ingredients they found was a chicken parmesan dish that had added sugar and mashed potatoes that were made with a preservative called sodium benzoate, as well as disodium pyrophosphate to maintain color. Those are not ingredients you'd add if you made it at home.
It turns out many supermarkets don't actually make all their prepared foods.
"According to the clerks who were quizzed by our secret shoppers, we'd estimate that only about half of what we tested was prepared on-site," Keating said.
And you pay a price for convenience. Some of the foods Consumer Reports checked out cost twice the price of making them at home.
Consumer Reports did find one great deal - rotisserie chicken. It's often far cheaper to buy it at the supermarket than to make yourself.
Consumer Reports' survey of its West Coast subscribers found they're happiest with the prepared foods at Costco and Whole Foods Market.
Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.
(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2014. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)
Consumer Reports: Surprising ingredients found in prepared supermarket foods
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