BRUSSELS, Belgium – High-pressure production processes used to mechanically separate meat increase the risk of microbial growth, although microbiological risks associated with mechanically separated meat are similar to those related to non-mechanically separated meat, a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) panel concluded.

The EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards sought to identify public health risks linked to mechanically separated meat types from pork and poultry and compare them with fresh meat, minced meat and prepared meat products. The panel also developed methods to distinguish mechanically separated meat types.

Current European Union regulations permit mechanically separated meat production from poultry and pork but not from bovines, sheep and goats. The product must be clearly labeled and does not count as part of the stated meat content of the product. Additionally, high-pressure mechanically separated meat must be immediately frozen and can only be used in cooked products.

"Microbiological and chemical risks arise from the contamination of raw materials and from poor hygiene practices during meat processing," the panel reported. "However, high-pressure production processes increase the risk of microbial growth.

"In fact, these processes result in greater muscle fiber degradation and an associated release of nutrients which provide a favorable substrate for bacterial growth," the panel added. "In relation to chemical hazards, experts from EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the food chain advise that no specific chemical concerns are expected provided that Maximum Residue Levels are respected."

As part of its research, the panel considered different parameters to distinguish mechanically separated meat from non-mechanically separated meat. The panel chose calcium as the best parameter because calcium is released from bone during processing. EFSA’s scientific experts developed a model, which uses calcium levels to identify mechanically separated meat products.

"This model will assist policy makers, as well as food operators and inspectors, in differentiating mechanically separated meat from non-mechanically separated meat," the panel concluded.

EFSA also recommended that additional studies were necessary to collect data on potential indicators in order to improve the differentiation between meat mechanically separated through low-pressure techniques and hand-deboned meat.