In the recent years, meat sellers are extensively using a lab-manufactured enzyme called meat glue that helps them bind together disparate scraps of meat so that it can be sliced into cuts that look as though it is one single piece. This helps them to utilize meat parts that would otherwise be discarded. But, as consumers, we must be aware of the effects that meat glue has on our health.
Most people have no clue about meat glue! In the recent years, news reports of an ingredient called meat glue have been doing the rounds in social media. This ingredient has been widely used in the meat industry.
Meat sellers use it to bind together disparate scraps of meat that can be sliced into cuts, which appear like whole steaks. This way, they add value to meat by gluing together smaller scraps and successfully sell cheap scraps as expensive meat cuts. Here’s what you must know about meat glue.
What Is Meat Glue?
Transglutaminase (TG or TGase), commonly known among restaurant chefs as meat glue, is used because of its ability to bond protein-containing foods together. Meat glue makes raw meats strong enough to be handled as if they were whole uncut muscles. TG is an enzyme that is found naturally in plants, animals, bacteria, and blood. Food scientists invented a method to synthesize it from bacteria, and a Japanese company markets it in the United States.
Uses Of Meat Glue
Though TG has been used only in the recent years, cooks have used other enzymes for ages. For instance, the enzymes in papaya are traditionally used as meat tenderizers. The enzyme rennet helps to curdle milk when making cheese. And for beer lovers, enzymes that break down starches into sugar are used to brew beer. Guinea pig liver provided the first commercially available form of TG.
TG is primarily used to make uniform portions of meat that cook evenly, look good, and reduce waste. It also helps bind meat mixtures like sausages without casings and makes novel meat combinations like lamb and scallops. It is also useful in producing special combinations such as meat noodles and meat and vegetable pasta. TG can also help thicken egg yolks, strengthen dough mixtures, thicken dairy produces, and increase yield in tofu production.
Why Is Meat Glue Added?
One of the main reasons the meat industry uses TG is because restructured meat can be made from underutilized portions of the carcasses. For instance, meat sellers may add up to 5 percent tendons to beef cuts and most people will not be able to tell the difference.
This has brought up many food safety concerns. One such concern is a risk that normally discarded leftovers, which have questionable microbial quality can become blended into the reconstituted meat. So, the reason for using TG is to reduce wastage and increase their sales.
How Is Meat Glue Manufactured?
Most TG is manufactured from the cultivation of bacteria using the blood plasma from cows and pigs. Sometimes, TG is also made from cultivating bacteria using vegetable and plant extracts. Most TGs are generally combined with other ingredients such as gelatin and caseinate.
How Safe Is Meat Glue?
TG is sold in a powdered form and, like all powders, it should not be inhaled. It must not be consumed directly in large quantities, but consuming TG within the levels recommended for food usage is considered harmless. TG is classified by the FDA as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) product when used properly.
Some studies have noted that stomach enzymes have difficulty assimilating proteins after they have been bonded by TG. However, other studies observed that these bonded proteins are absorbed and assimilated in the body into normal products as if they had never been bonded.
Effect Of Meat Glue On The Body
Improper regulation of TGs in the body is associated with the plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease patients. It has also been linked to the development of cataracts in the eyes, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and many skin conditions.
However, none of these are related to consumption of foods made with mTG (microbial TG), but rather because of imbalances in the body’s ability to regulate the TG that it produces.
Additionally, those who have problems with gluten may develop complications when ingesting meat, which is treated with the meat glue enzyme, as it acts as an auto-antigen capable of inducing an autoimmune reaction.
Sometimes, using a microscope, it is possible to observe the introduced E. coli (Escherichia coli O157:H7) along the glue lines where meat pieces were enzymatically attached, which shows that the restructuring process can translocate fecal matter surface contamination into the interior of the meat.
E. coli is a type of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness of the colonic escherichiosis type, through consumption of contaminated and raw food. Infection with this type of pathogenic bacteria may lead to hemorrhagic diarrhea, and to kidney failure.
The bacterial count in restructured meat is extremely high as even the external pieces of meat are glued together inside, making them hard to cook thoroughly. The level of bacteria on a steak that has used TG is dangerously high. This can result in food poisoning, illness, and even death.
How Can We Avoid TG Foods?
Being informed and selective about the foods that you buy is the best way to avoid foods that contain TG. If possible, abstain from eating meat or decrease consumption. Raise your own animals and grow your own vegetables. When you buy meat and vegetables, buy them from local farms and co-ops instead of supermarkets. Buy organic meats, vegetables, foods, and products. Avoid eating processed foods and ensure that you read the label of foods you purchase.