Meat Glue (Transglutaminase): The Meat Industry’s Dirty Secret

meat glue package from Japan image-meat-glue
Care for a slab of Frankenstein steak? Just glue meat scraps together with transglutaminase and serve ’em up, hot. Side of blood clots, optional.

The white powder sold by the kilo, above, is the meat industry’s dirty little secret. It’s “meat glue.” It makes pieces of beef, lamb, chicken or fish that would normally be thrown out stick together so closely that it looks like a solid piece of meat. See also our posts on Israel’s frozen fish scandal and how garlic from China is scary stuff.

Restaurants and butchers  can now sell their scraps as premium meat. Good way to use them up – and charge premium prices for them too. Best of all, you don’t have to tell the customer. Once the glued meat is cooked, even professional butchers can’t tell the difference.

What is transglutaminase?

Meat glue” is transglutaminase, an enzyme in powder form, derived from beef and pork blood plasma. See the Wikipedia description of it here. Chefs most commonly use the Activa RM brand, which is transglutaminase mixed with maltodextrine and sodium caseinate, a milk protein.  Using enzymes in food isn’t a new technique. Papaya seed is the main ingredient in meat tenderizers, for example. Rennet and yeasts produce enzymes that make cheese and alcohol, too. Natural enzymes. Meat glue is a darker product altogether.

Yet according to Cooking Issues, the French Culinary Institute’s blog (USA), meat glue is safe. That is, the major study carried out to gain acceptance by the FDA says so. And why shouldn’t we believe? It was funded by Ajinomoto, the product’s manufacturer, after all.

A scientist we interviewed about meat glue could only speak *on anonymity* about the hazards.

This video from Australia’s TodayTonight TV show demonstrates how easily you can create Frankenstein meat. Just sprinkle a teaspoon of  powdered transglutaminase on various meat scraps, knead them together and roll them up in plastic wrap. Put in the fridge and 6 hours later, you have an easily-sliced piece of meat that looks like real fillet.

Only make sure to wear your face mask while performing the simple operation: you don’t want to be inhaling powder that makes your blood clot abnormally.

//

Do you want to be eating it either?

Banned by the European Parliament in May 2010, meat glue is freely available through sources like Amazon.com. The information from the French Culinary Institute states that 1 kg. will hold over 100 kg. of meat parts together. This is the product description of meat glue exactly as it appears on Amazon.com:

  • Food Enzyme used to provide ways to improve texture, yield, sliceability.
  • Used to “glue” protiens (sic) together; mix Swordfish with Salmon to create a Seafood Filet
  • Used to “glue” protiens together; mix Elk, Llama and Yak to create a Exotic Mixed Grill Filet
  • Product of France
  • 18 month Shelf Life, Keep in Freezer to ensure product strength

In the TodayTonight video, microbiologist Glenn Pener voices concern over meat glue and food poisoning.

“The amount of bacteria on a steak that’s been put together with meat glue is hundreds of time higher,” he says.

The bacterial count in patched-up meat is extremely high because scraps that were outside pieces but are now glued together inside are hard to cook thoroughly.

Another reason to eat less meat, buy organic or from a trusted source, and take nothing for granted in terms of food safety. Makes you think twice about what’s really in popular food-chain hamburgers, too.  Even kosher and halal meat must be questioned – there is a kosher version of meat glue, Activa TIU.

Europeans – hopefully – aren’t eating Frankenstein meat now. There are no regulations against meat glue outside of Europe, however. The main objection to it is that it’s misleading; diners pay for quality meat that’s really scraps glued together. But I ask: what are the health consequences? Is it known what long-term consumption of transglutaminase – a blood-clotting substance – has on human beings? Especially if you like your meat rare.

Just gimme my meat with the bone in, please. Hold the side of thrombosis.

More on on food and the consumer:

Miriam Kresh also writes a food blog.

About Miriam Kresh

Miriam Kresh is an American ex-pat living in Israel. Her love of Middle Eastern food evolved from close friendships with enthusiastic Moroccan, Tunisian and Turkish home cooks. She owns too many cookbooks and is always planning the next meal. Miriam can be reached at miriam (at) greenprophet (dot) com.

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  20. HARVEY MILLER

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  21. Miriam Kresh Post author

    Good heavens. Well, everyone’s entitled to an opinion. I wish you good health, and good luck.

    Reply
  22. JohnnyMorales

    Miriam Kresh – I did, and all I have to say if that is what passes for serious science, then creationists, anti-global warming nuts and a host of other groups that don’t believe in science have some good company.

    Nameless sources SPECULATING on what this substance is and its digestibility ARE NOT facts or proof of anything.

    Anecdotal evidence given by individuals who eschew meat completely then blame meat glue for their problems fails the “proof” standard even more egregiously.

    The worst part of it is how the writers of the article NEGLECT to mention their “proof” is just speculation, and do their best to disguise it by merging it into points made about the product that are fact based.

    Finally, the notion that “industry studies” are naturally full of lies is cynicism taken to a self-defeating extreme.

    While it is a good thing to always keep an eye out for obvious bogus data, it is WRONGHEADED to dismiss a study and its findings, because it was done by the industry in question, as wrong as dismissing an ACTUAL study were it done by those who fear meat glue.

    The article seems to blithely ignore that a company that engages in such behavior risks multimillion dollar fines as well as criminal charges for doing so, AND THERE ARE numerous cases over the years to prove that yes enforcement agencies do take their jobs seriously, and DO keep an eye out for criminal behavior in the industries they monitor.

    While there are always going to be failings, the West is NOT PR China where haphazard food regulations are barely enforced.

    After reading those articles I am more convinced that meat glue is a safe product.

    The notion that it is indigestible was NOT proven in those articles. All it was was tangential speculation based on the misinterpretation of the meaning of “unbreakable bond”. How utterly pathetic.

    Reply
    • JoMomma

      “…creationists, anti-global warming nuts and a host of other groups that don’t believe in science have some good company.” You’re the best company of all Johnny boy.

      Your big money pseudo-science is your religion. Those who question the gospel of Algore are heretics.

      “Science” proved that everything in the universe “just happened”… Yes kids, when you actually pin them down, that’s their “official” answer. They really believe they are like, TOTALLY advanced… just like the snake oil salesmen and the quack doctors did last century.

      “anti-global warming”… LOL! Is that the same as “anti-global cooling” or is it the opposite? IPCC Who? I don’t even know who the IPCC is… Or that they ALSO paid for all of the global “warming”… err “climate change” research as well.

      You are the classic case Johnny. Everything you know, you got right off of your T.V. set. You are a religious fanatic who lives in serious denial of everything around you. If you start to WAKE UP (lose faith in your T.V. set), your entire, bogus, meat-glued world will crumble around you and you’ll have to face the facts. The fact that the world isn’t fair and that it’s full of liars, cheats, swindlers and very, very EVIL and dishonest people who have been telling you what you want to hear for your entire life.

      It’s a waste of my time to even explain any of this to you though since you will no doubt deny it… like you deny everything.

      So I guess I’ll just leave it at this:

      I make my very own meat-glue from my own special meat hose. It’s 100% organic and Al Gore says it tastes like yummy pudding times infinity plus one. You can help yourself to some whenever you want. I can only make one table spoon or so at a time though so you’ll have to give me a while to fill up an entire bottle for you to gulp down all at once. Please leave your name and address at the bottom of your next post and I’ll send you a butt-load in like a month…

      since were friends and all.

      Reply
  23. JohnnyMorales

    OK, one thing this article neglects to research is whether or not this stuff is INDIGESTIBLE.

    I have a feeling it is degraded along with our other food.

    Therefore the notion that eating it will somehow lead to higher levels of this in our blood is absurd.

    Reply
  24. Stephanie Presley

    Why does the meat industry and the government have to keep changing our foods to try to make more money with no concern of what it’s h going to do to the public. Just leave things the away they were intended to be. Stop trying to just make a buck and kill our people.

    Reply
  25. Logjam

    They’ve been using this product in Montreal smoked meat for years. It’s a perfect way to disguise reconstituted meat.

    Reply
  26. Aristides

    The FDA requires retailers to label meat glue in products as ‘“formed” or “reformed”. I’ve known about this for a year or so and have been able to identify mg products (though as we all know a magnifying glass would make id’ing easier). Aside from the obviously crass use of mg by butcher shop suppliers to ‘sweep the floors’ of virtually all leftovers, the issue of chefs wanting to be more ‘creative’ with mg is to be encouraged as long as this information is disclosed in the menu; an earlier poster’s point mentioned the ethical or religious violation when foods are added to a product that some find untenable with their beliefs. Some people also are unknowingly exposed to a health hazard through food allergy problems. The less creative chefs who use it more for enhanced profit-making should understand that if a customer is paying $48. for a tournedo entree then it had better be tenderloin and nothing else.

    Reply
  27. Bob Roberts

    Any meat produced with these products should be labeled,then I can decide if I want
    to buy it.All other products have to list their contents,why not this?seems to be something really “fishy” here.

    Reply
  28. Miriam Kresh Post author

    Eric, that’s one powerful sardonic fantasy.But I can’t agree with equating unscrupulous use of dangerous food additives to a skewed sort of patriotism. You might like to read Margaret Atwood’s futuristic book, The Year of the Flood, where exactly such recycling happens.

    Reply
  29. Eric

    Hey, I am all in favor more recycling everything, including MEAT.

    We should make a law that requires EVERYONE to send in all of the meat scraps from the table, from leftover dog and cat food, PLUS the road kill and dead animals from the farms, ranchers and pet morgues. Anyone not doing this would be sent to the glue factory themselves, for not being patriotic enough.

    Just glue all of it together and sell it again and again, over and over… who cares about a few measly bacteria?

    Remember the movie Soylent Green? Maybe, if things get bad enough and the corporations REALLY want to make some HUGE profits, we can recycle human beings and glue them together with all of this other stuff…

    How about mixing it up with some sawdust and maybe some other free or cheap stuff like dirt and dust swept together off the floor, to increase profits.. Oh yea, they are already doing that with bread..

    In Japan, they are coming up with a product to eat that looks like meat, from human sewage waste I believe.. Oh yea, that will REALLY sell like hotcakes, errrr, I mean beefsteaks.

    Well, now it is time to do it ALL, with this meat stuff. Let the profits ROOOOOLLLLLLL On. No patriotic American would ever want labels on any of this, to let them know what is going on, right? Cause that would hurt PROFITS… OMG, we can’t have that now.

    Just kidding of course… lol

    Reply
  30. Melba

    To Sandy Lester, YOU may think it’s bull but I want to know what #&*@ is in the food I’m eating. If you don’t care, then eat, smoke and be merry. But you are completely mistaken in saying that there is no proof that second-hand smoke is dangerous! What are you, an employee of Big Tabacco?

    Anybody talking about ‘food nazis’ are shills. The American public needs to be informed so that we can make our own choices, including which form of junk we want to consume. Make mine a Snickers Bar!

    Reply
    • Karin Kloosterman

      I agree. More transparency and information about synthetic food additives in our food. The best tool we have to protest is our own pots – start making more food at home people and the questions will be solved. As for meat – it’s tougher because butchers might not even be knowing if they are buying glued products.

      Reply
  31. Rene from TX

    Thats a good idea, Tom. As for me, I will stick to brisket and ribs. Its pretty tough to form those items with glue!

    Reply
  32. Tom from Indiana

    I think this glue/paste is great news. Look at all the wasted road kill that could be salvaged and sold as a delicacy. Imagine grilled fox,rabbit,chicken all put back together with this glue and sold as oxabbitken at say $5 a sandwich. Road-kill cafe’s would sprout up all over the country, hiring the unemployed and serving the homeless with left overs.Unemployment would go down, profits and taxes go up and the government can start funding special needed projects again such as how much wood does a woodchuck chuck. Oh well, in the meantime, I guess I will have to go back to arbys for some of that specially prepared one of a kind roastbeef. The kind that sticks to your ribs..no matter what. 🙂

    Reply
  33. Carla

    There is no real problem with this product except you have to be careful when cooking it (don’t eat it rare) otherwise this article is more scaremongering, just to make us frightened of everything except the ‘wholesome’ food that they hawk on their website…

    Reply
  34. Jason

    check out Subway’s chicken breasts. They look like chicken breast, but the grill marks are somehow “painted” on and there is no consistent meat grain…much like the McNugget (now available in 6 shapes). I don’t know how Subway chicken breasts are poured or formed but I don’t eat them simply because they are misrepresented. I stick with their sliced meats whick we all know are formed from pieces into a roast shape and then cooked.

    Reply
  35. angie

    Just as irradiated chicken is not labeled, the beef that is glued together is not labeled.
    What about people who do not eat pork?
    Mixing pork with the beef violates their religious practices.
    That is the first thing that I thought of because I know people who do not eat pork.
    There is absolutely no respect for people, their health, or practices.
    And, we think the government is here to protect us?!
    You are on the mark, Kim. I am going to look for a good butcher, and I try to buy my produce from local farmers.

    Reply
  36. jeanjj

    eeewww I agree that we don’t know what we’re eating most of the time, no wonder our parents and grandparents lived so long, they didn’t have this worry, everything they ate they grew or bred, time to go back to our roots.

    Reply
  37. Eleanor Dow

    Pathetic. We seem to be willing to sell our souls, our bodies and the possible future of our societal health for corporate profit and the ability to remain ignorant rather than study the problems and demand solutions. Why does leadership have to come from the bottom up.

    Reply
  38. Tom Farrell

    No I stayed with the chicken sandwiches I know they have additives but at least they look like real chicken

    Reply
  39. Tom Farrell

    I worked at Arby’s. Meat glue is what Arby’s passes off as roast beef. The stuff looks like meat loaf when raw and slices up like roast beef after it is cooked. We used to call it meat paste.

    Reply
  40. steve

    Unadulterated beef is considered safe by the FDA as the inside is not subject to bacterial contamination until you stick it with a fork or something. Mixed meat like gyros, Arby’s beef, McDonalds chicken nuggets is considered potentially hazardous because meat surfaces are introduced in the mixtures and therefore much more bacteria is mixed in too. Cooking completely is required to kill the bacteria. Some bacteria and viruses are resistant to heat.This is the issue regardless of the harmful affects of the glue.If I cook glued meat rare to medium I’m at risk. .Also when you cook mixed meats medium to rare, the internal temps of the meat rise which favor bacterial multiplication.
    I chose not to be at risk so I want to know if the meat is mixed or not so I can avoid it.
    Also injecting meat with water contaminates it and is a marketing sham. Ever wonder how a Gennie-O turkey cooks down to pidgeon size?
    As usual, follow the money.

    Reply
    • Karin Kloosterman

      I think that now more than ever consumers need to shop at butchers who they know personally (going away from Big Box stores where there is no name/no face/only bottom line), eating less meat, and buying whole animals and store the meat in the freezer for use over the year.

      Reply
  41. Charlotte Solarz

    Have you ever ordered a fillet of something and noticed that it had no taste? Now I figure that was the reason: I am not eating the food. I am eating blood plasma bacteria infested glue! This information is a big shock to me, and given choice I’d “just say NO THANKS”

    Reply
  42. Sandy Lester

    This is just bull s#it. The food industry is so regulated as to make it nearly impotent. This is the kind of story you get from food nazis. They are no different from the smoking nazis. IE second hand smoke (40 year study by the WHO found NO evidence of damage from second hand smoke) IE EM (25 year study by the WHO found no evidence of damage by these charges)
    They don’t like flesh so want to tell you what you can eat, leave me the hell alone.

    Reply
  43. Lee Parker

    I would like to conduct an interview on our international talk show regarding meat glue and its abuse in the commercial market. The goal of the interview would be to educate people as to the commercial dangers, how to identify meat that has been glued together and how we can protect ourselves from a commercial marketplace that does not inform us so we can make sound choices.

    Please contact me by return email or by calling 888-385-3733. We can move forward from there.

    Thank you,

    Lee Parker, Producer
    The Global Freedom Report
    888-385-3733

    Reply
  44. A. Nuran

    It’s been a staple of the molecular gastronomy crowd for a long time. I use it sometimes. It’s great for rouladen or roasted chickens that won’t leak, fish and fowl in one piece, pasta made entirely of meat and odder things.

    There’s a world of difference between the industrial world of charging as much as possible for crap and artistic expression in one’s own kitchen.

    Reply
  45. Scott

    There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t be safe after it’s been cooked. It’s an enzyme made of protein… which, like the rest of the proteins in the meat, gets denatured upon cooking. It all just gets digested in the gut down to its component amino acids. There are very few proteins that I’m not willing to eat, because with few exceptions, they all get degraded in the stomach before they can be absorbed by your body. Nothing to worry about. I’m not a fan of how willing food suppliers are to add non-food chemicals to our meals, but proteins and enzymes are extremely unlikely to be harmful. (I’m a chemist.)

    It seems to me that this is allowing chefs to use more of the animal, so this should be celebrated.

    Reply
  46. Karin Kloosterman

    Federico –– I think Miriam plans on doing an update post for the consumer. So we can know where/how to avoid meat glue. Going veggie and vegan is probably the best way for starters, but if not, how can we be informed?

    Reply
  47. Miriam

    The product pictured is made by the Japanese firm Ajinomoto, the major manufacturer of meat glue and is exactly what is banned in the E.U.

    Reply
  48. Federico Sakamoto

    Mostly true, but you should know the product you have pictured is made in France and not banned in the EU. Other meat glues are, but the one you have pictured is derived from cow and pig blood coagulants normally found in the blood sausages all over the world.

    Also, the product is not “freely” available at Amazon. It is readily available at Amazon. It costs a fair bit of money.

    The criticism of the meat story should be towards disclosure. If I know I am buying glued meat that is my issue. If I want to avoid such meats, again, my issue. The consumer has to know. And where the heck are USDA and the FDA?

    Reply
  49. Karin Kloosterman

    I met the inventor of fake crab meat in Jerusalem a few years back and bet that’s what they use to seal the cod fillets together. Here’s more from wiki on the health issues:

    Deficiency of factor XIII (a rare genetic condition) predisposes to hemorrhage; concentrated enzyme can be used to correct the abnormality and reduce bleeding risk.[3]

    Antibodies to tissue transglutaminase are found in celiac disease and may play a role in the small bowel damage in response to dietary gliadin that characterises this condition.[3] In the related condition dermatitis herpetiformis, in which small bowel changes are often found and which responds to dietary exclusion of gliadin-containing wheat products, epidermal transglutaminase is the predominant autoantigen.[5]

    Recent research indicates that sufferers from neurological diseases like Huntington’s,[6] and Parkinson’s[7] may have unusually high levels of one type of transglutaminase, tissue transglutaminase. It is hypothesized that tissue transglutaminase may be involved in the formation of the protein aggregates that causes Huntington’s disease, although it is most likely not required.[3][8]

    Mutations in keratinocyte transglutaminase are implicated in lamellar ichthyosis.

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