If you’re gearing up for barbecue grilling season, you may want to consider sticking with veggie burgers. Recent news that all but one country in the EU reversed their ban on the practice of using “meat glue” has shined a light on the controversial practice widely used here in America, which actually extends beyond the burger.
Approved by the FDA under the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) rule, “meat glue” is pretty much what it sounds like: Certain enzymes are used to create an adhesive that holds small cuts of meat together to appear as a more desirable (and more expensive) whole filet or steak, a practice which is problematic for a number of reasons.
The “glue” commonly comes from thrombian or transglutaminase extracted from animal blood—often cow or pig—and can be found in processed meat, poultry and fish. Producers take shreds or scraps of meat, then mix in the meat glue and form the mixture into the desired shape such as imitation crab meat and chicken nuggets, but also as steaks and filets. These meat glues also extend outside of the slaughterhouse and are frequently used in making milk and yogurt products creamier, as well as in making noodles firmer.
Controversy over the practice lies in the toxicity of the glues, which are coagulants so they’re potentially dangerous if inhaled. Some studies have also concluded that certain individuals may have difficulty breaking down proteins held together with thrombian or transglutaminase. And the misrepresented appearance of a whole steak or filet may lead consumers to cook them rare, but these scraps posing as a filet may be old and potentially harmful if eaten undercooked. Because of the nature of mixed scraps, there’s an increased chance of them leading to illness from the pathogen risks.
The Centers for Disease Control estimate that just in the United States, foodborne diseases may cause 6 million to 81 million illnesses and up to 9,000 deaths each year.
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