During the production of meat products，it is not uncommon that the trade may use “meat glues”. It can bind low value meat cuts or trimmings together and restructure them into meat products with better shape, structure and taste, as well as products of higher nutritional and market value.
Most Common “Meat Glues”
Certain types of enzymes can be used as “meat glues”. For example, transglutaminase (TG) has already been studied many years in overseas countries and applied in production of meat products.
TG is a naturally occurring enzyme present in different animals, plants and microorganisms. It can catalyse the formation of a bond between proteins of different meats, in turn binding meats together and modifying the protein structure. “Restructured” meat products (e.g. sausages, hotdogs, steaks, etc.) will therefore have a better texture and nutritional value.
Generally speaking, the amount of TG added to food is small (0.005% - 0.100%). It is believed that TG will neither form toxic by-products nor lead to loss of nutrients in food.
In Europe, TG is not considered as a food additive because it has no function in the final product.
2) Alginate and Carrageenan
In Europe, algae extracts including alginate and carrageenan are approved meat glues as well as food additives. As such, “restructured foods” involving alginate and/or carrageenan are subject to the food labelling requirements in the European Union.
Indeed starches can also bind meats together. In Europe, when starches are used as meat glues, they must be mentioned in the ingredient list of the food products in which they are used for this purpose.
Control of “Meat Glue” in Hong Kong
At present, Hong Kong does not have any specific legislation regulating the use of “Meat Glue”. Indeed, from a food safety perspective, those meat glues commonly used by the trade are natural and safe. Apart from the European Union, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also considers TG is safe for use.
1) Food Safety Concern
Some people think “Restructured meat” may have higher amount of bacteria. This is not impossible. If the preparation of “restructured meat” is not hygienic enough, the risk of resulting meat products contaminated with pathogenic bacteria will be higher. For example, bacteria on the exterior of a meat may be introduced into the interior of a pieced-together meat.
No matter it is a “restructured meat” or an “intact meat”, the centre of the meat should reach 75oC or above before consumption.
2) Consumer Rights
An enzyme preparation based on thrombin and fibrinogen also enables binding of meat pieces together. However, the European Union does not authorize the use of it. This is because unlike TG, the authority thinks that thrombin/fibrinogen preparation functions as a food additive and therefore requires authorization. After consideration, the European Union thinks that such an enzyme preparation has no benefit to the consumer at all and likely misleads consumers who cannot differentiate restructed meats from others.
There are statistics showing that per capita consumption of meat increases every year. According to a projection of food demand to 2020, per capita consumption of meat will be up to 40 kg. Since peoples need more meat products and have a better environmental awareness, there are more and more research works on improving the quality of meat, fully utilizing low value meat pieces to avoid wastage, and raising the values of meat products.
There is no doubt that “meat glue” allows the trade to have a better use of raw materials, and increases the production and quality of meat products. However, it should only be used when it meets the requirements of food safety and protection of consumer rights.