Mass media outlets have recently brought attention to the restaurant industry’s use of the enzyme powder transglutaminase, known as TG, or “meat glue,” that can bind pieces of meat together.
Last month San Francisco’s ABC7 News reported the restaurant and foodservice industry uses meat glue to bind together meat scraps to make them to look like whole prime cuts. While the ABC7 said that meat glue is “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration, ABC7 argued that gluing together pieces of meat can pose a food safety risk.
Since meat pieces exposed to bacteria along the supply chain are glued together, the bacteria on the glued pieces can’t be killed with cooking, ABC7 said.
“Usually cooking a steak on the outside will kill all that off. The center of a single cut of steak is sterile, that's why you can eat it rare. But glue pieces of meat together and now bacteria like E. coli could be on the inside,” the report said.
Last week California State Sen. Ted Lieu wrote the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ask FSIS to investigate restaurants, food suppliers and banquet facilities’ use of TG.
Several other new agencies and publications, including The Huffington Post, Bloomberg, The Los Angeles Times and MSNBC, have picked up the “meat glue” story, causing consumer buzz about meat glue on social media platforms like Twitter.
In an official statement, the American Meat Institute said the recent media coverage of TG “is unfortunate and misleading,” and that “meat glue” is an inaccurate term with journalistic shock appeal. AMI added that meat glue has been used for almost 20 years in dairy, seafood, bakery and meat “to improve texture or bind cuts together,” such as binding two beef tenderloins together so fillets will be uniform when cut.
“USDA regulates and inspects all meat products including those made with TG. We are unaware of any food safety issues involving products made with TG," AMI said, noting that packaged meat products containing TG are labeled "formed" or "reformed" and must include TG on the ingredient list.
As to whether chefs are using TG to create premium steaks out of inexpensive cuts, AMI said this is impractical and illegal. “A chef attempting to pass off inexpensive cuts like chuck as a premium cut like filet mignon would be breaking the law and should face the consequences.”
Recent events have made the beef industry the focus of mass media and consumer attention, including USDA’s confirmation of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow disease,” in a dairy cow in central California. In addition, earlier this spring, many retailers dropped beef trimmings, dubbed “pink slime,” from ground beef after consumer uproar in response to an ABC News interview with a former FSIS scientist.