PORTLAND, Ore. - You've likely seen the headlines in the past month about the meat filler "pink slime". But the meat industry has another dirty little secret revealed in video after video on YouTube: leftover pieces of meat stuck together and then sliced into whole cuts.
What’s the sticky bond holding it all together? Something called meat glue.
Mark Fuller is the chef and owner of Ma'ono Fried Chicken and Whisky in Seattle.
“(It’s) something I found interesting. (It’s) something I like to play around with,” explains Fuller.
Think you haven't eaten meat glue, or transglutaminase? It's in some intimation crab meat, sausage, and cheese and yogurt as a thickener.
It's an enzyme made by cultivating bacteria.
Fuller demonstrates how transglutaminase works by taking two pieces of skirt steak. He sprinkles the meat glue powder on the steak pieces and then marries them together.
He then wraps the cut and refrigerates it overnight, allowing the powder to coagulate and then fuse the uneven pieces into perfectly-shaped steaks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture insists transglutaminase is safe, but OHSU endocrinologist Dr. Bart Duell cautions that fused meats need to be cooked to at least 165 degrees to kill any bacteria. That's the temperature of a well-done steak.
“A rare cut or medium hasn't been heated to that temperature in the middle, so there's a small risk that you could get some kind of food-borne infection,” says Duell.
Duell insists ground beef poses an even bigger risk than glued meat. That’s because the ground meat has more total surface area where bacteria can grow.
Restaurants aren't required to tell you if you're eating glued meat, but product labels will have the words "transglutaminase," "formed" or "reformed."
Back at Ma'ono, the glued loin is cooked and rested. A slice down the middle reveals the slightest of seams. It's the only clue that this single piece of steak is not straight from the cow.
Chef Fuller has stopped using transglutaminase in his restaurant, saying you shouldn't need glue to get customers to stick around.
“It's a natural product, but it just doesn't feel natural to me,” says Fuller.
Some chefs are purposefully using meat glue to cook creative cuisine. Instead of gluing skirt steak to skirt steak, they're fusing it with chicken, seafood or other meats. And one New York City chef is using meat glue to create pasta made from shrimp.
So how can you, as a consumer, know if you’re eating meat glue?
• Read labels.
• If you're in a restaurant, look for a meat glue seam, though it can be hard to spot.
• Ask your waiter if the restaurant uses meat glue. If you don’t like the answer, don’t eat the meat.