I was reading before my chemistry class the other day and I came across a new term, “restructured meat”. I can assume what this might mean, but was curious what the FDA considered restructured, what it included, how it was done and what if any dangers there are to it. In my investigation I found that locating a definition was a little more difficult that I had expected. In fact entering this term into a search engine produced a number of results that looked more technical and a whole lot less consumer friendly that I was hoping for. And so my quest began.
The most frightening discovery was actually my first. The first link I clicked was some information on the background of the invention of restructured meat. The PDF included a list registered patents for various restructured meat products. “U.S Patent Application Publication No. 2002/0048622 to Baarada…[a] composite meat product(s) formed using raw trimmed meat which is macerated and marinated…U.S. Pat. No. 4,539,210 discloses restricted meat products formed using meat chunks and fat particles…U.S. Pat. No. 4,377,597 discloses a restructured meat product designed to resemble roast beef…made of beef strips and chunks, and chopped beef binder.” As well as patent numbers “5,690,989, 5,631,035 5,472,725, 5,100,680, 4,874,623, 5,017,393, 4,975,294, 4,927,661, 4,820,535, 4,810,514, 4,731,906, 4,610,844, 4,728,524, 4,603,053, 4,363,822, 4,258,068, 4,210,677, 4,072,763, 4,036,997, 3,911,154, 3,852,507, 3,769,036, 3,683,793, and 3,573,062” 1. So patent nightmare aside, I still hadn’t figured out what this product really was. While a number of sites told me the benefits of restructured meats. One can add nuts to a meat product to help fight off cardiovascular disease2. Help cut costs by adding fillers such as cellulose, which most fast food restaurants do and which is why your quarter pounder is so cheap. One site even called restructured meats an art3.
I hit the jackpot, when I clicked on an article on the Food Product Design site.. It seems restructure meats is a term that covers all manner of items. From sausage and ground meats to lunch meat and fish sticks. Basically anything that doesn’t go from animal to package without any intervention other than simple butchering. So most of the meat products you see in the grocery store. From what I can tell this includes anything in the deli section, all prepared and frozen meals, jerky, prepared seafood such as grocery store sushi, salads and seafood sandwiches, pet treats and of course the obvious ground meats and sausages. What it excludes, seems to be fairly limited. If it has skin, bones and vessels still intact you are looking at non structured meat. Preparation depends entirely on the product. For ground meats and sausages, meat is separated from bones and other tissues, massaged, ground, sometimes mixed with additives or spices and then packaged. Turkey lunch meats, are mechanically separated from the bone, marinated and injected with salt water, tumble dried, injected with additives and softeners to break apart proteins, vacuum sealed in a plastic sleeve, cooked and rolled out to your local supermarket for easy uniform lunch meat slicing. Surimi (fake seafood) is probably the most frightening. It was actually once real seafood. Manufacturing companies start with cheep or what my family would call “garbage fish” such as low grade cod or hake. It is then de-skinned, boned and gutted. The meat product is then washed (which takes away almost all of the nutritional value a person gets from eating seafood in the first place), mixed with additives, dies and flavors, molded into a desired shape, cooked and painted to resemble most commonly, crab meat. The resulting product is served in grocery stores in seafood sandwiches, salads and sushi and has a shelf life of about 4 years. It really is an art.
As far as I know restructured meats do not have to disclose added ingredients beyond “fillers” or “additives” . In my mind this is not acceptable, especially with a growing number of food allergies among consumers. People should know if soy or dairy proteins are going into their meat products. And people suffering from nut allergies should definitely know if their hamburger is going to send them to the hospital. But the labeling battle is a constant fight between manufactures, regulatory organization and consumers. I still am unconvinced that these products are necessarily good for you, but allergies aside I doubt eating lunch meat is going to kill you. I would think a person would suffer from eating large quantities of animal proteins far before they would suffer any consequences from eating the additives put into some of them. I personally have always been grossed out by lunch meats, and prepared frozen meat meals. I have always preferred buying a whole chicken, cooking it and trimming it myself as it is much cheaper than buying piece-meal prepared chicken parts. But I am certainly not going to stop buying delicious locally prepared sausages for barbequing in the summer. These decisions are a matter of personal preference, I am not here to persuade you one way or another. Just like any other eating decision, in the end it is your own.