I-Team exposes "meat glue"

I-Team exposes "meat glue"
November 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
On Friday's special on 20/20, called "The Real Dish," ABC News gave you new insight into the food industry, from the value you get, to safety issues. The ABC7 News I-Team has been exploring another industry practice that is not widely known by consumers -- the use of "meat glue" to bind scraps together, to make them appear as a prime cut of beef.

A product made by a Nebraska company is one of several commonly referred to as "meat glue". Fibrimex uses proteins isolated from cow or pig blood. It's a coagulant -- the same thing found in your body that makes a cut heal. In this case, it's used to "heal" pieces of meat that would be discarded back together.

A YouTube video states, "The use of FibrImex means a significant reduction in unsale-able parts."

Those "unsale-able parts" are often the tougher meat left over, after processors cut the best part out of a beef tenderloin. The scraps could be made into hamburger, stew meat or be thrown out.

"This is just cubed beef," Chef Staffan Terje said.

Terje doesn't use meat glue in his restaurant, but he agreed to show the I-Team how it works with another product called Activa. The coated pieces go into a circular tin for that filet mignon shape, set overnight, and there it is.

"Frankensteak! Nice juicy frankensteak," Terje said.

Here's the problem: the outside of a piece of meat comes in contact with a lot of bacteria, making its way from slaughterhouse to table. Cooking a normal steak will usually kill all that off -- the center is sterile, and that's why you can eat it rare. But, glue pieces of meat together and bacteria -- such as E. coli -- could be on the inside.

"And say somebody wants that filet steak rare, the center temperature is not going to reach the temperature that will actually kill the bacteria," Terje said.

The I-Team investigation revealed the most glued product by far is filet mignon, most commonly served at restaurants, banquets, cafeterias or hotels.

The federal government and an industry spokeswoman say glued meat is safe if cooked properly, and that it has to be labeled as "reformed." But, you wouldn't see the label if you're eating out.

"It is on a label, it may not be on the label on the menu of a restaurant but it is on a label that's somewhere in the facility, they've seen. So you should talk to your wait staff, you should talk to your chef, if you have any concerns you need to ask and be informed," American Meat Institute spokesperson Betsy Booren said.

If you're going to a wedding or any type of reception over the holidays, there's a chance you'll be served a meat glued filet. So, ask questions, and if in doubt, make sure it's cooked well.


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