What is it?
Scientifically, meat glue is known as transglutaminase. This enzyme is produced two ways: through the cultivation of bacteria, or from blood plasma coagulant of pigs and cows. When sprinkled on meat, it forms cross-linked, insoluble protein polymers that act like super-glue. The glue-covered meat is then rolled in plastic film and refrigerated to create near invisible seams. Some manufacturers have gotten so good that even expert butchers cannot tell the difference between a prime cut of beef and glued together pieces of scraps.
Which foods have it?
In addition to beef, meat glue is used in lamb, chicken, pork or ham, imitation crabmeat, fish balls and other fish products, and processed meats such as bologna and other cold cuts or deli meats. It is also used to “improve the general texture” of other foods such as fat-free yoghurt and cheese.
What are the concerns?
Food manufacturers are not required to disclose meat glue usage, which makes misleading consumers very tempting and potentially very profitable. You may think you're buying a prime cut of meat, when in fact you may be paying top dollar for glued-together bits and pieces that would otherwise have been discarded or sold for a fraction of the price.
Another concern is the increased possibility of contracting food poisoning. According to Australian TV’s ‘Today Tonight’ report, bacterial contamination of meat-glued steak is hundreds of times higher than a solid piece of steak! If an incident does occur, it is would be near impossible to discern the source of the contamination, as chunks of meat from multiple cows were combined.
On the other hand, some may view meat glue as an opportunity to conserve. Edible meat scraps are being put to better use, and in turn less food is being needlessly thrown away. And though misleading, meat glue has not yet been proven health adverse. Only time and continued credible research will tell.
What can you do?
At this point, you may be considering going vegan. If the professional butchers can't discern the difference, how can I? Well there are ways to eat beef (and chicken, and fish) in a truly healthful way. If you want to avoid glued piece meats passed off as prime cuts, here are some tips from Dr. Mercola to make healthier meat choices:
- Choose beef that is organic AND grass-fed. Risk of E. coli decreases significantly with grass-fed beef.
- Select meat ideally from a local farm. Farmer’s markets, co-ops, and community supported agriculture programs can verify that products are raised on pasture with NO antibiotics or pesticides, and can confirm the actual cuts.
- Animals should be allowed to live in their natural habitats, and they should eat their natural diets.
- The farmer should be aware of the relationships between animals, plants, insects, soil, water and habitat – and how to use these relationships to create synergistic, self-supporting ecosystems