Monday, March 20, 2006

Mechanically separated meat

[News of the death of a poultry innovator inspires inquiry into...]

Mechanically separated meat (MSM), also known as mechanically recovered meat (MRM) is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing beef, pork or chicken bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue. Mechanically separated meat has been used in certain meat and meat products since the late 1960s. This product can be contrasted with meat extracted by advanced meat recovery systems.

The act of mechanically harvesting meat that would otherwise be unusable dates back to the 1950s when mechanical hand tools were developed to help remove these scraps and minimize waste. By the 1960s, machines were developed that did this more efficiently and automatically. This allowed companies to cheaply bulk up or extend their products and in turn offer these products to the public for a lower price.

Questions arose in the 1980s as to the safety of mechanically separated meat. In 1982, a report published by FSIS on mechanically separated meat said it was safe and established a standard of identity for the food product. Some restrictions were made on how much can be used and the type of products in which it can be used. These restrictions were based on concerns for limited intake of certain components in MSM like calcium. Mechanically separated meat must be labeled as "mechanically separated beef or pork" in the ingredients statement. Hot dogs can contain no more than 20% mechanically separated beef or pork.

Concerns were brought about again when the BSE (Mad Cow Disease) epidemic was discovered in the United Kingdom in 1986. Since bits of the spinal cord (the part most likely to be carrying BSE) often got mixed in with the rest of the meat, products using mechanically separated meat taken from the bodies of bovines were at higher risk for transmitting BSE to humans. As a result, in 1989 the United Kingdom tightened restrictions to help ensure that pieces of the spinal cord would not be present in mechanically separated meat taken from bovines.

Today, the use of mechanically separated meat taken from bovines has declined. Most mechanically separated meat is now made up of chicken or pork and is used to bulk up or "extend" a variety of other meat products.


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