Are you sure you were enjoying a delicious filet mignon the last time you went out to a fancy steakhouse? Or were you eating pieces of stew-quality meat that were "glued" together to form what resembled a filet mignon, but was actually anything but?
Much like pink slime, the use of "meat glue" (aka transglutaminase) is not something that's been publicized much -- until recently. The process of using meat glue requires taking a powder-like substance, mixing it in a bowl with some water and then using it to coat various pieces of meat before forming them into a filet mignon (or other type of cut) shape. After sealing the creation in a vacuum bag and then allowing it to set overnight, you have your newly-formed creation -- with the transglutaminase still intact as part of the ingredients.
Chef Staffan Terje of San Francisco's Perbacco Restaurant recently told San Francisco's KGO-TV that he does not use meat glue at his restaurant, but that he's very familiar with the practice of using it and jokingly refers to filet mignons and other bogus "steaks" manufactured to look as such as "Franken-steaks."
Betsy Booren, Director of Scientific Affairs for the American Meat Institute, defends Meat Glue -- telling Los Angeles' KABC-TV, "It gives chefs and specialists some flexibility to create a very nutritious and healthy product and add value to what ultimately, worst-case scenario, would just be thrown away."
Although the USDA requires that transglutaminase appear on the ingredient label along with the terms "formed" or "reformed meat," those labels are not necessarily available to anyone consuming "Franken-steaks" at a restaurant or other public eating scenario during which the meat is prepared and then served to dining guests.
Add to this the concern that normally, the center of a cut of meat is sterile (thus there's usually no harm in eating a steak rare or medium-rare). But when meat glue is used to assemble various pieces of steak into one, there is no "center" that hasn't come into contact with potential bacteria that could possibly harm the person eating it if it's not cooked all the way through.
Food safety attorney and advocate Bill Marler told KABC-TV, "It has not reached a point where people generally are aware of it and I think it's primarily because, like pink slime, nobody knew where it was. I think what their fear is, is that the public's going to look at their information and go 'I don't want to eat that.'"
Marler went onto say that meat glue is used more than people realize and the meat industry isn't giving consumers the entire picture -- even though the meat industry claims that meat glue is used to glue scraps of filet mignon back together, as opposed to lesser-quality scraps of meat.
The French Culinary Institute's "Tech'N Stuff" blog reports that some studies have shown that stomach enzymes have difficulty breaking down proteins after they've been bonded together by transglutaminase, while other studies show that the bonded proteins are absorbed and broken down in the body as though they had never been bonded.
Whether you're for the use of pink slime or meat glue in your meat products is an individual choice. (And as someone who has blogged against pink slime, I can assure you it has its defenders.) What's good about these recent reports is that we as consumers get to be more informed, and therefore are able to make more informed choices when it comes to what we're ingesting.
Personally, I subscribe to "the more natural, the more clean the food is, the better for my system and my metabolism" way of eating. Again, the choice is up to you. So tell me, are you for meat glue? Or would you want to avoid it? I would love to hear from you in regard to this somewhat sticky issue.
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