Healthy Living

TURKEY EXPOSÉ: Don’t Pay for Salt Water!

Turkey is a delicious, protein-packed main dish, and is a staple in our diets, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, there are some surprising facts about the turkey you buy at the grocery store that you will want to keep in mind for your next shopping trip. We went on an undercover shopping trip to get the facts about turkeys.

Our advice is to take caution, as many turkeys are “moisture enhanced.” This means they are injected with a salt-water solution. For frozen turkeys, 8% to 20% of the bird’s weight could be salt-water solution.  So, when you head to the checkout with your turkey, you’re actually paying for salt water. A 20 lb. moisture enhanced turkey equals only 16 lbs. of meat (4 lbs. is nothing but water). And, since it is injected with salt water, a 4-oz serving from that same turkey could add as much as 540 mg of salt to your diet. That equals 23% of the daily recommended amount of salt. No one needs this much salt, especially your favorite uncle with high-blood pressure joining you for dinner. Here is some advice to help you make the healthy choice.

Step 1: Read the Front (Small Font) of the Packaging

The first step is to read the packaging. The amount of moisture injection must be written on the front label of the turkey.  However, the description can be confusing. Sometimes it includes the words salt or sodium, and sometimes it is just described as solution without mentioning what makes up the solution. What’s more, the word “natural” can be used on the labels of any of these injected birds. Since the USDA doesn’t have rules about the labeling of “100% natural” or “all natural”, a turkey can be labeled “natural” and still be injected with ingredients that do not naturally occur in a turkey.

Step 2: Flip the Bird Over

The only way to evaluate the amount of salt injected is turn the bird over and read the food label. Look for “sodium” to see how many mg are in one serving.

Step 3: Reading the Label

You do have healthy options that you can choose. The first label is from a fresh turkey (not frozen) with no moisture injection.  As you can see on the label, a 4-oz serving of turkey with no salt water added contains about 65mg of salt. This is the amount of salt that turkeys naturally contain. Look for turkeys like this when you buy groceries. If you really prefer to have the moisture injected turkeys, go with one that adds less salt. The second label is from a turkey that has been injected with an 8% sugar and salt solution; a 4-oz serving contains 190 mg of salt which is about equal to the amount of calories (170). Both of these options come close to meeting the 1 for 1 rule, meaning the amount of salt is equal to or less than the number of calories in one serving.


We would not choose the turkey products with the following labels. They have so much salt water added you really aren’t getting a lot of turkey for your dollar.  Also, as you can see, the first turkey has 540mg of salt per 4-oz serving, which is almost 25% of the daily recommended amount. It has been injected with approximately 20% of a moisture solution so you are paying for a lot of water and salt, not just meat. The second product contains 230 mg of salt per 4-oz serving. This is a much better choice than the previous turkey, but there are still better options. The turkey with this label was injected with an 8% solution, so 1.6 lbs. of your 20 lb. turkey is just water.

If you do buy a fresh, no-salt-water-added turkey, don’t worry about the turkey being dry because it was bathed in salt water. You can keep the moisture by stuffing  the turkey with orange and/or lemon slices, rosemary, thyme, and a few cloves of garlic. In our test kitchen, we soaked the turkey with apple cider and water. While cooking, we basted the turkey with apple cider. It was juicy and delicious! The best part of buying a turkey that has not been moisture injected is that you taste the wonderful flavor of turkey meat. You may even save money by buying more meat and no water.

From the ONIE Project Team!