What is “Meat Glue”?

Image Credit: Wheeler Cowperthwaite / Flickr. This image has been modified.

What is ‘Meat Glue’?

The so-called “meat glue enzyme” transglutaminase is used by the meat industry to add value to meat by gluing together smaller scraps into a larger chunk. And it’s not just used to make fake steak—the American Meat Institute estimates that it’s used in about “eight million pounds of meat every year in the United States.” Transglutaminase can be used to cross-link pieces of any type of meat, fish, or meat product, and hence can be used to produce large chunks of virtually intact looking meat or fish out of small meat or fish cuttings. When researchers actually tested for transglutaminase in 20 samples of meat from the supermarket, they found meat glue in only two of the samples—in a sample of salmon and a sample of turkey (See Is Meat Glue Safe?)

Where does meat glue come from? For decades, the sole commercial source of transglutaminase was from the livers of guinea pigs. Now it can be sourced much cheaper. However, the future of meat glue remains uncertain because of “communication difficulties.”

One of the reasons the industry uses meat glue enzymes is because, “restructured meat can be made from underutilized portions of the carcasses.” For example, you can get away with adding up to 5% tendons to beef, and some people can’t tell the difference.

This has raised food safety concerns. There is a “risk that otherwise discarded leftovers of questionable microbial quality could find their way into the reconstituted meat.”

One can actually take a microscope and see introduced E. 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.

Furthermore, people who have problems with gluten may develop problems when ingesting meat treated with the meat glue enzyme, since it functions as an auto-antigen capable of inducing an autoimmune reaction. (Many gluten reactions may not actually be to gluten, though. See my video Is Gluten Sensitivity Real? and most need not worry about gluten sensitivity. See my video Is Gluten Bad For You?).

Some meat additives, however, may actually improve food safety. See Meat Additives to Diminish Toxicity, Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray.

More on E. coli O157:H7 in my video, Meat May Exceed Daily Allowance of Irony. For those interested in the politics of this “Jack-in-the-Box” strain, see my blogs E. coli O145 Ban Opposed by Meat Industry and Supreme Court case: meat industry sues to keep downed animals in food supply. From a population perspective, the E. coli in chicken is more of a concern. See my video Avoiding Chicken To Avoid Bladder Infections.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


19 responses to “What is ‘Meat Glue’?

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    1. I’ll look into this, but to my knowledge it’s so poorly inspected and regulated that it would be very hard to know what companies use it. I’ll post any new info I find here. Thanks, Michelle

  1. Sort of related to this, how susceptible am I too catching viruses, bacteria, diseases, illnesses, and such as a result of working as the checkout scanner/cashier at the grocery store thus having to handle raw chicken packages, red meat packages, pork, turkey, egg cartons, etc.? If I am having to handle these “wrapped” yet often dripping in juice-packages dozens of times a day, should this be a huge concern of mine, or will my body build up resistance to the pathogens? I am hoping this is not the disease route of some diseases we chalk up as being caused from other things. Thanks. I am very concerned at my age to being exposed to these things, but I also do not want to over react. I’d rather follow what the science says.

    1. Heather does your work allow you to wear gloves? Dr. Gregor has some great videos on contamination. Click on Health topics above.

      1. Yes, but the gloves are cumbersome, thus not user friendly. I’m just wondering how big of an issue and concern this should be for regular grocery store workers working the checkout counter. I have watched all the videos on this on this website, but I do not seem to get an answer from the videos or opinion from Dr. G if this is a legitimate concern for us checkout counter workers.

        1. There are latex and non latex gloves fit for a king, surgeon, deli workers, food handlers and you name it.
          At a checkout counter I would be more worried what the customer thought. Don’t wear a mask too.

      1. Yes, informative video. But from what I read elsewhere, this is not as big of an issue for adults – our immune systems are developed, mature. I hope Doctor G. can offer some insight on this issue today on this post. Please, Dr. G?……from a concerned vegan grocery store employee.

  2. The fact that an enzyme is extracted from the livers of guinea pigs is not only greatly disturbing but very upsetting that most meat products will not have this information on the product itself. Can this meat glue be used on any meat?

    1. Looks like it, as they found it in supermarket salmon and turkey, but I do not know all of the restrictions. It is misleading to say the least.

  3. Meat glue … ugh, what a resulsive sick idea.

    Is this something we will find in our cuts of meat from the butcher
    or meat section of the supermarket, or more likely something that
    would be found in processed food such as “turkey loaf” and things
    such as that?

    Ugh, just the idea is going to have me feeling queasy for the rest
    of the day … thanks a lot! ;-)

  4. As a Medical Technologist I have to you cannot look under a microscope & SEE a particular E.Coli strain-those types of differentiation require culturing the bacteria to determine which strain it is. I am not in favor of meat glue & I appreciate the info but please don’t scare people into thinking you can SEE E.Coli strain o157:H7 under a microscope. A gram stain viewed under a scope WILL show a gram negative rod shaped bacteria (of which E.Coli belongs to this group) but that’s as far as it will go without proper chemical testing to differentiate and confirm.

  5. That’s amazing! The less food waste, the better in my opinion, as long as it’s cleaned properly. Ecoli ew!

    Does this mean I can use meat glue to make a turducken steak? lol

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