Fake Meat: The Meat Glue Secret You Need To Know

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Fake Meat: The Meat Glue Secret You Need To Know
image – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhgOEsAd1xY

You might be shelling out a couple of dollars more for what you think is “better” meat when it is in fact the opposite: Because of an enzyme used in food production called transglutaminase, companies that process and sell meat can now “glue together” meat scraps to make a new “cut” of meat.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, transglutaminase is a natural substance that comes from fermenting bacteria and is generally safe for human consumption. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of this enzyme back in 1998 in order to “improve texture and cooking yields” for various meat and poultry products sold on the market. When sprinkled on meat, meat glue, as transglutaminase is most commonly known, forms cross-linked, insoluble polymers that act as a gluing agent which binds smaller pieces of meat together. [1]

How Meat Glue Is Used

Meat glue has numerous uses in the food industry – it is used in making ham, imitation crab meat, fish balls, and processed meats. However, when it is used to glue together small meat cuts to pass off as a more expensive prime cut, that is an entirely different story.

Scraps of meat which are too small to sell or could be sold at a higher cost if as a solid block of meat are sprinkled and rubbed with meat glue, rolled into a plastic film and refrigerated. The result is a solid piece of meat that many experts could easily overlook; even an expert meat butcher couldn’t even tell the difference between a prime cut meat and scraps of meat glued together with meat glue. In a highly controversial report published by ABC News, a chef in San Francisco showed the news team how meat glue works and how unethical it is to use in cooking. [2]

The Dangers Of Using Meat Glue

Many chefs and manufacturers – and even the American Meat Institute – consents the use of meat glue because it ‘helps add value to smaller cuts of meat that on their own might have less value’. According to them, this practice helps control costs, ensures the affordability of meat for the consumers, and heightens the value of the otherwise scrap meats. However, this speaks to the ethicality of this practice, at how consumers are basically tricked into paying more for meat that has less value. [3]

The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection committee requires all meat and poultry products that use transglutaminase to have a label stating that it is a formed meat, e.g. “Formed Beef Tenderloin”. The food label’s ingredients must also include transglutaminase in the list. No food product is exempted from this requirement. [1]

Another issue regarding the use of meat glue is sanitation and its safety for consumption. Professor William Chen, director of Food Science and Technology Programme at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said that the bacterial growth on the meat is immense because of the increased handling that the meat goes through. More pieces of meat = more processing = more hands that they pass through. A piece of meat made up of different parts also requires a higher cooking temperature to thoroughly eliminate bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, Clostridium, and E. coli. If the meat is not properly cooked, consumers could be at risk for food poisoning. [4]

Avoiding Fake Meat and Making Better Meat Choices

Go organic. Organically-grown meat is free from pesticides and antibiotics. It is the healthiest kind of meat you can buy. It may be much more expensive than regular cuts of meat, but you are paying for quality and reducing your health risk for diseases that come with eating meat that was mass-produced. Local farmers are usually the best sources of organic meat; not only are you supporting your local community, you are also making healthier lifestyle choices as well.


[1] US Department of Agriculture. Safety of Transglutaminase Enzyme (TG enzyme). https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/safety-of-transglutaminase-tg-enzyme

[2] Noyes, D. (2012). ‘Meat Glue’ Poses Health Risks For Consumers. https://abc7.com/archive/8642900/

[3] Questions and Answers About Transglutaminase Sometimes Called ‘Meat Glue’. https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=a/GetDocumentAction/i/72894

[4] Ng Jun Sen. 2016. Meat glue – The Food Industry’s Secret to Fake a Steak. https://tnp.sg/news/singapore/meat-glue-food-industrys-secret-fake-steak

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