WASHINGTON – The American Meat Institute held a media briefing to discuss transglutaminase and fibrin, enzymes that have been labeled in the mainstream media as “meat glue,” in an effort to head off the next food-related controversy.

“We’re doing this because we’ve seen some misinformation that’s been circulating in the media and in some blog posts,” said Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs for the AMI. “We wanted to take this opportunity to share with you all the facts that we have at our disposal about these products, how they’re made, and how they’re regulated.”

Riley said media reports have suggested the enzymes were being used to “glue together” disparate pieces of meat, such as using beef stew meat to make a prime filet.

Mark Dopp, senior vice president, regulatory affairs and general counsel for AMI, said trying to bind meat cuts together and pass them off as something else is “patently illegal.” He added that if the practice is occurring, it is a matter for state and local law enforcement agencies to address.

Brendan Naulty, senior vice president with Ajinomoto North America which manufactures transglutanimase under the brand name Activa, and Christiaan Penning, a spokesman for Fibrimex, represented the companies at the media briefing.

Transglutanimase is a ubiquitous enzyme found in animals, human tissues and plants. In 1987, Ajinomoto patented the use of transglutanimase for binding or cross-linking protein.

“We developed applications for the food industry for bonding restructuring in bakery products, dairy products and meat applications,” Naulty said.

Penning said Fibrimex is fibrin tissue, which is formed by fibrinogen and an enzyme called thrombin.

“They are available in all living animals, also in humans, and are designed by nature to repair muscle and skin damage,” Penning said. “We can isolate and purify these proteins and then make them work in whole muscle meat to put whole muscle meat like tenderloins together, thus creating a better form to cut two filets, and to increase the quality of the cooking procedure and the finished product.

“They are natural proteins occurring in the meat itself, but used in a more intelligent way.”

Fibrimex is mostly applied in meat processing operations and then provided to retailers, restaurant chains and smaller restaurants, Penning said.

However, Activa is not typically found in retail meat products. If it were used in retail products, it would be labeled as “formed” or “reformed” followed by the protein source, Naulty said.

Dana Hanson, an extension meat scientist at North Carolina State Univ., said products like Activa and Fibrimex are used mainly for portion control, and not to bind inferior meat trimmings to pass them off as higher value cuts of meat.

“That practice is not practical; it’s not economical for meat processors to go down that road,” Hansen said. The enzymes are widely used for portion control, he added. Hanson also said that restructured products do have a greater surface area which may increase the presence of bacteria within the internal structure of the meat cuts.

“But as long as we follow USDA cooking guidelines that recommend that these restructured products be cooked to an endpoint cook [temperature] of 145 degrees Fahrenheit with about a 3 minute hold time, we find that the safety of these products are very acceptable,” he said.

“There have been no negative food safety issues surrounding these products,” he added.