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What is Pink Slime & Meat Glue and what are they doing in my food?

Updated on July 6, 2012
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Gagging yet?

This won't be a very savory article. For that I apologize. If your stomach is turning by merely reading the title you will want to read on.

Pink Slime is the nickname for "mechanically separated meat". The FDA is so helpful at making harmless mental images, aren't they? Mechanically separated meat is.. well, anything but. The fatty tissues and leftovers that are left after the larger portions of meat are removed from a carcass are heated and separated using a centrifuge. Thus separating the protein from the fat. This pink slime is then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill e.coli and other harmful bacteria.

ABC News reported in March of this year that nearly 70% of the beef sold in supermarkets contains pink slime (the report is shown in the video below). After the report aired consumers spoke up, and many large chain retailers promised to stop purchasing products containing this "Lean, finely textured beef." though it's unknown if those retailers have really made any changes. Official FDA spokespeople say that the term "Pink Slime" is inaccurate - because it is, after all, just processed lean beef. There is no labeling requirement, and on your food label it will read "meat".

Due to the use of ammonium hydroxide pink slime has been banned in Canada. In the UK, pink slime does not meet the standards for sale or human consumption. Here in America, we are led to believe it's perfectly safe.

"Lean Beef Trimmings" or... Pink Slime

Meat Glue

The second nasty topic I'd like to cover today is Meat Glue. Meat Glue is an enzyme (or combination of enzymes) used in meat production to attach several parts of meat together so that they appear as one piece of meat. You may notice when you purchase frozen chicken "breasts" that sometimes they come apart in odd places - or your steak might take an odd shape as you're cooking it.

Say hello to meat glue. It's proper name is Transglutaminase. It's what helps food producers arrive at products like imitation crab, and nearly every type of processed meat product. It also has links to Huntington's and Parkinson's Disease, though further studies are still needed.

Meat glue allows the food industry to charge a premium price for a premium cut of meat, while selling you an inferior product. The video below shows a great demonstration of how it's used. Even the butcher in the video couldn't spot the meat glue prior to cooking.


Mystery Meat, a demonstration of Meat Glue

Conclusion

Buying a steak that was glued together with pig is pretty unappealing. Even worse, paying for a high-quality cut of beef and receiving a piece that is riddled with bits of meat from who-knows-where is also pretty foul.

So what are the options to avoid these horrid substances without giving up meat? Buy local. If you can, buy a whole chicken and do the extra work it takes to eat safe. Purchase meat from a Farmer's Market or local producer. You're more likely to get an honest product this way. The very best thing you can do is ask questions.

It also never hurts to reduce your meat consumption, either. Having meat a few times a week instead of a few times a day will also mean that you're sending less financial support to the companies who so eagerly feed us Pink Slime and Meat Glue.

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