Industry responds to call for fed TG investigation

by Bryan Salvage
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SACRAMENTO – Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, Calif., recently sent a letter to Alfred Almanza, Administrator, Food Safety and Inspection Service, US Department of Agriculture, regarding the use of transglutaminase (TG) – which is being referred to by some in the media as ‘meat glue’ – in restaurants and by food suppliers. Lieu chairs the Senate Labor Committee and represents approximately 1 million residents of Senate District 28.

Recent media investigations allegedly revealed that TG may pose health risks to consumers, Lieu wrote. This product and process is used to bind disparate parts of meat products to form a larger piece of meat, he added.

“Some food suppliers, restaurants and banquet facilities will provide steak, such as filet mignon, that was actually composed of different meat parts glued together by transglutaminase,” Lieu charged. These types of ‘reformed’ meats can pose several problems, he added.

Lieu requested that the FSIS investigate the industry’s use of transglutaminase, possible dangers posed by it and how consumers can be informed they are eating meat containing it. He voiced concerns about potentially contaminated portions of such products, that such products would add to the difficulty in traceback of a contaminated product featuring multiple components, plus stories of transglutaminase possibly causing allergic or other reactions in consumers.

“As a matter of honesty and the consumer’s right to know — food suppliers, restaurants and banquet facilities should not be deceiving the public into thinking they are eating a whole steak if, in fact, the steak was glued together from various meat parts,” he concluded.

As in the case of lean finely textured beef being referred to as ‘pink slime’, the American Meat Institute takes issue with TG being called ‘meat glue.’ AMI called Lieu’s office on May 2 offering to brief him on TG. “We asked him to stop using the term ‘meat glue’” Janet Riley, AMI’s senior vice president of public affairs and member services, told MEATPOULTRY.com.

AMI also explained USDA regulation of TG to Lieu and that the agency does not have jurisdiction over chefs in restaurants. “It's important to note that using TG to attempt to glue chuck trimmings together to make it into a prime filet would be illegal under many state and local consumer protection laws,” Riley said. “When I think of TG, I think of its use in portion control and in creative cooking – not as a tool to somehow try and mask a lesser cut as some have alleged.”

Riley explained transglutaminase is a safe enzyme that is FDA- and USDA-approved. It is used in a variety of foods, not just meat. “When we use it to process a product, it must be labeled in the ingredient statement and the product must declare that it has been formed or reformed,” Riley said. “The product has an excellent food-safety record. It is valuable in ensuring portion control and it facilitates creative foods like bacon-wrapped filet, for example, because it helps the bacon bond to the outside of the filet.”

Ajinomoto North America Inc., Fort Lee, NJ, which says it is the main producer of transglutaminase enzyme preparation, emailed a statement on the use of TG to MEATPOULTRY.com.

“Transglutaminase is an enzyme made by plants and animals, the statement began. “Like all enzymes, it is a protein.”

Ajinomoto's TG-product is a natural enzyme made by fermentation for delivery of a pure, high-quality protein, the company explained.

TG and other enzymes are widely used in food production to provide consumers with a broad array of good-tasting food choices, the statement continued. “TG is used for different reasons in many different types of foods, sometimes to improve texture and sometimes to bind meat cuts together,” the company added.

TG is a niche product used at very low levels. In the case of meat, it is most often used to help bind two large tenderloins together, in opposite directions, to provide a more uniform overall size for portion control, the company said.

The company’s TG-product is approved as safe in the US, Europe, Japan and many other countries, the statement continued. “The FDA has approved TG as ‘generally recognized as safe’ [GRAS], and the USDA has approved its use in meat products,” the company added. “USDA has inspectors present in meat plants on a daily basis who ensure that meat is handled safely and is labeled appropriately. Labeling is required when TG is used in products available at the grocery.”

TG has been in domestic and international markets for almost two decades. “We are unaware of a single food-safety-related event associated with its use,” the statement concluded.

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