Hormel Ham

All Natural…Really?: Hormel Natural Choice Deli Meats

Hormel HamIn this week’s edition of my new series “All Natural … Really?” I take a look at Hormel Natural Choice Deli Meats.  First introduced in 2006, this line has 11 different varieties of deli meat and claims to be “the first nationally distributed line of all natural sandwich meats with zero preservatives and no artificial colors or flavors.”  After checking out the line-up in my local grocery store, the “100% Natural” claim just seemed too good to be true, so I did a little investigating.

Now according to Hormel’s website, their line-up of Natural Choice products can avoid nitrites, nitrates, MSG, and other artificial ingredients thanks to High Pressure Processing.  “High-Pressure Processing (HPP) is a cutting-edge USDA—approved all-natural process that utilizes intense water pressure to protect against harmful bacteria without affecting a food product’s taste, texture, appearance or nutritional value.  Products are packaged, sealed and then placed in a cylinder-shaped pressure chamber where it is surrounded by water. Up to 87,000 pounds of water pressure–roughly equal to five to six times the pressure found at the bottom of the deepest ocean–are exerted per square inch, protecting against harmful bacteria and sealing in freshness and flavor naturally, with no preservatives needed.”

After reading more about this process, I was actually pleased to find out it didn’t involve chemicals, irradiation, or other more questionable means of preserving foods.  Still, my intuition was telling me this was all too good to be true.  So, I contacted Hormel to find out more about the meat used in the production of their Natural Choice products.  Here’s what they said:

“There are no hormones allowed by law in any poultry products.  Beef and Pork are allowed to use hormones. Antibiotics are used only when necessary in all animals and then there is a withdrawal period before the animal can be processed. The animals are tested for any residue before being processed.”

And there you have it … hormones and antibiotics are used in the production of Hormel Natural Choice Deli Meats.  In fact not only would these meats fail to qualify as “All Natural” in many other countries, in the European Union they wouldn’t even be allowed to be on a grocer’s shelf because some of the items contain meat from animals treated with hormones.  Unfortunately, the United States’ FDA doesn’t have any restrictions like these, and as my series “All Natural … Really?” points out, “All Natural” products really may not be as good for you as you think.

So what do you think of products labeled “All Natural”?  Do you trust them implicitly?  Or do you consider them just a little less bad for you?

To read more articles from my series “All Natural … Really?” click here.

Hormel Ham

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. V.L.

    Ok. So have you actually found any lunch meat readily available out there that is totally natural meaning…without all of the above AND without the beef or other meats being treated with hormones and antibiotics? This was upsetting as we’ve been buying this line of Hormel for about a year now…

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Applegate is also a growing, national brand that offers organic and hormone-free/no-antibiotic options. Also check at your local food co-op to see if they have any local/regional brands they may recommend.

      Thanks for your comment and for visiting my blog.


    2. Jiger

      Wellshire farms sells all natural presliced meats at whole foods. I don’t eat meat myself but I am in the restaurant industry so was looking for natural products for a new concept which we want everything clean labeled.

  2. Carrie

    I really appreciate you checking into this. I saw a coupon for this and thought I would go check it out. No I do not trust All Natural labels at all. Applegate does have a few products at my local Kroger and they are very tasty. Also Trader Joes has some meats as well. I can not consume anything that is not Natural…I get very ill for 24-72 hours and am bed ridden. With such reactions I don’t allow my children to eat the garbage that’s out there.

    1. Jeff

      Also check out the Simple Truth items at Kroger stores. These are made with antibiotic free meats, with no hormones added and vegetarian fed diets. I like these better than Applegate, and they cost less. Read labels carefully. I have found some items at Traders Joe’s that have sodium lactate added.

  3. Clothilde Hall

    Does Hormel use ractopamine in its pork products?

  4. Bruce Bradley

    I’ve tried contacting Hormel to see if they use ractopamine (a drug used to promote lean muscle mass in pigs). Unfortunately they did not reply directly to my question and instead said “ractopamine is a safe and effective FDA-approved feed supplement.” Given this reply, I think we can assume they probably do allow the use of this drug in their pig farming operation.

  5. frances

    Applegate may not use meats from animals treated with antibiotics or hormones, but they do use nitrates. The company claims that the nitrates they use are safe, because they are derived from celery powder… but, here’s the thing: nitrates are nitrates. Our own bodies make them. They are present in our saliva. The only time nitrates in food become dangerous is when the food is cooked quickly, at high heat (like bacon). A person would have to eat far more bacon than any person should for it to cause cancer… they’d probably die of obesity-related disease first. It should also be considered that, while the UK bans the use of hormones in meats, they also show higher rates of breast cancer (for one) in their population than the US does. I guess my point is, “natural” doesn’t *always* mean “better”, and there really is some common sense in the age-old wisdom of using moderation. By the way, I have highly estrogen-receptive breast cancer, and have never eaten much in the way of any kind of meat. My oncologist says I didn’t get cancer from eating a bacon cheeseburger now and then… I actually got it for no reason at all, as happens in 80% of breast cancer cases.

  6. Penelope

    Hi Bruce! Thank you so much for this article. I am actually a mother of 5 kids who all adore lunch meat and lets face it – so do I! I want to provide good healthy foods for my kids but believe that “moderation in all things” is the best policy We try to eat a mostly vegetarian diet at home, but I do allow my kids to have one sandwich once a week with meat on it for school. Although I understand that this product isn’t “all natural” as they claim, my question is – is it still better than the other lunch meat options that have nitrates? I don’t have stores like Trader Joes or health food stores near me, so my options are limited. So is this the best option for me if my store doesn’t carry Applegate products? I’m just trying to find the best thing for my kids – with the limited stores around me. This is a better buy than regular processed nitrate filled meat yes?

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Hi Penelope! Thanks for your comment. I’d say that this product is slightly better than many of the other luncheon meats out there. I do think it overpromises/misleads consumers into thinking it’s better for you than it truly is. Having just read Barry Estabrook’s book about the pig industry called Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat, I don’t want it to appear as if I’m endorsing this product, but I understand that we don’t live in a perfect world and many of us don’t have access to other more sustainable products. In general, though, I’d do my best to stay away from these highly processed meats from factory farms, and it sounds like you’re doing your very best AND eating a mostly vegetarian diet which is great.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for visiting our site!


      1. Mom of Redheads

        While this isn’t the best choice, it is better than Oscar Meyer or the like. If you want the best lunch meat, you really need to buy whole (clean) meat and roast and slice it yourself. For convenience I think all of the ones labeled “natural” are better choices than unnatural, but be aware, that doesn’t mean they are the cleanest, least manipulated that you can get. I would say that they need to be used in moderation if you use them at all.

        1. Bruce Bradley

          Processed meats, even the “natural” ones, aren’t good for you…although an occasional splurge isn’t going to kill you. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with you that if you want to use lunch meat more often, buying humanely-raised, organic meat and cooking it and slicing yourself is the best option.


  7. Diann

    I was thrilled when I found their products and only bought meat that made this claim but after reading this I won’t be buying their products anymore, you just can’t trust anyone with your food. I guess I’ll go back to eating less meat again. It just makes me so angry that corporations place profit above healthy food and I feel places like this should be held responsible for false claims and contributing to the poor health of people who consume their products. I wonder if they feed this crap to their own families?

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Thanks for your comment, Diann.

      Having worked at several processed food companies my experience is about a half to two-thirds of the employees eat at least some of the products these companies produce. Most of the larger food companies and even some of the smaller ones have company stores where employees can purchase the company’s products at a substantial discount. Some employees love this benefit and stock up, while others mostly avoid the products their company makes.

      Thanks again for visiting our site! Hope to see you comment again soon!


    2. wendy

      Animal Legal Defense Fund would be interested in your opinion about this – you can email them at legalcase@aldf.org

  8. Karen

    Applegate uses concentrated celery juice which has higher nitrates than the synthetic products.

    1. Bruce Bradley

      Naturally cured meats can have higher levels of nitrites than chemically cured products. The focus of this post, however, was about whether products like Hormel’s Natural Choice deli meats should really be considered all natural. The broader question of the healthfulness of cured/processed meats wasn’t addressed in this post. That said, all the research points to processed meats having a negative impact on health (http://www.bbc.com/news/health-21682779). Personally, I occasionally will eat processed meats—just not very often. And when I do, I try to choose natural or organic options where the animals are raised humanely. Finally, for readers who are concerned about this issue, here’s some additional information about Applegate’s use of natural nitrates (they posted this in response to a Cook’s Illustrated article on nitrate-free bacon). https://www.facebook.com/notes/applegate/applegates-response-to-cooks-illustrateds-article-on-nitrate-free-bacon-july-aug/455559249993/


  9. MachineGhost

    Even if they don’t used antibiotics (which I’m not worried about) they now have hidden MSG, up to two sources of added nitrates further converted into nitrites by the lactic aid and the nitrite levels are 10x higher than in conventional deli meat. What a pure and unfettered scam!

    1. MachineGhost

      …and also, no added vitamin c to prevent the nitrates/nitrites from converting into carcinogenic nitrosamines. Guess what conventional deli meat has added.

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