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Creating Waves of Awareness

Ecowatch: As EcoWatch reported in March 2014, the USDA now allows chicken to be sent to China for processing before being shipped back to the states for human consumption. One reason this story is resurfacing is a recent Facebook post by Erin Brockovich, who is outraged that this export/import policy exists.

Meat Glue and Your Food

By now most people probably realize that ground beef contains the meat from hundreds of animals from different parts of the world, but few would ever suspect that the same can be true for prime cut steaks! Well, that's possible through the use of so-called meat glue, used to "super-glue" small chunks of meat together that are too small to sell, and passing it off as prime cuts... Buy organic grass-fed meat.

It’s white, powdery and can turn chucks of beef into a single piece of steak.

Most diners probably are not aware that some chefs can use a substance called transglutaminase [the coagulant that causes blood to clot] to bind pieces of meat together. Pork, lamb, fish and chicken may be glued together.

— Microbial bacterial contamination may occur with rare cooked meat

— Misrepresentation of the meat

This "meat glue" has been a part of the food industry for decades, where it goes by the name TG or Activa.

It can be a legitimate staple used in restaurants, cafeterias, catering and dishes like the ones created by Chef Ian Kleinman. Kleinman is the chef/owner of the Inventing Room, a catering service in Denver.

Kleinman showed 7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost how meat glue works by covering a scallop in chicken skin.

"The Activa is allowing that chicken skin to bind to be able to stay on the scallop. If we didn’t have the Activa in it, it would fall off into the pan," said Kleinman.

Kleinman’s ingredients and cooking methods are no secret. He said his use of meat glue in dishes is completely safe.

"It's just like any other style of cooking if we reach that temperature that we need then it’s completely safe to eat. So, it’s about education. It’s about knowing what you’re cooking. If you’re not safe with it, if you’re not practicing proper procedures, you can certainly get people sick very easily," said Kleinman.

Kleinman said it’s a matter of knowing what you’re doing.

"There are fun applications to it, but there are some instances in the industry where they use it to make products that aren’t very good," said Kleinman.

Kleinman said he first learned about meat glue as a culinary student during a field trip at a meat processing plant. The steaks being processed were intended for Olympic athletes staying at the training center.

While inside the meat processing plant, Kleinman said he saw how chunks of meat could be glued together.

"They were using it to get a nice uniform, piece of meat that would cook uniformly to all the trainees down at the Olympic center and to be able to do it at a cost effective price," Kleinman said. "The tenderloin they wanted to feed the athletes, this really lean cut of meat, but they had all these scraps that they wanted to put together."

When meat glue is mixed with pieces of meat, wrapped, vacuum sealed, then left to set, the end result can be sliced and served just like a filet.

"It’s not what I would want to sell to my customers or what I would want to eat," said Chef Michaelangelo Rosacci, Corporate Chef/VP of Tony’s Market.

Rosacci told 7NEWS that meat glue is not used at Tony’s Market.

"We would never glue things back together. We do it the old-fashioned way. We tie it together with a string," Rosacci said.

Rosacci said he is aware of how meat glue can be used to save money and deceive customers. The process of 'gluing' meat can stretch meat supply, save money and restaurants don’t even have to tell you about it.

"I can see someone being deceptive and trying to put pieces of meat together, and trying to sell you something that’s not truly what it is. To slip it by you. It’s not going to be revealed and in most cases they don’t even have to tell you that it’s in there," said Rosacci.

According to the FDA, meat glue is "Generally recognized as safe."

"The FDA says it’s perfectly safe. It's just, how is it being used?" pointed out Rosacci.

During the process of 'gluing' chunks of steak, the outside of the meat becomes the inside.

"If you've got meats cut together then stuck together you could have bacteria on the inside," said Rosacci.

For safety reasons, the USDA recommends cooking the inside of a steak to 145 degrees. A cut of meat that’s glued and ordered rare or medium rare could serve a potential health hazard.

Tasting the difference or even spotting glued meat is nearly impossible, but there can be warning signs.

"If I were to cook this up, being glued together, there’s going to be little lines that will form through the piece of meat. That would be an indication. When you cut into it, should be solid through the cut. If it falls apart when you slice it, it’s going to be a warning," said Kleinman.

You shouldn't have to worry about confusion at the grocery story. The label and package should be clearly marked as "formed." Meat glue, transglutaminase, or TG would also be included in the ingredients.

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