Paul Kamon‘s foodie site Urban Diner is great for news about local dining. At the UD Forum, most participants are professionals, including owners, chefs, servers and other industry insiders and suppliers. There are a few folks, like me, who are consumers, observers or wannabes but, unlike me, they are informed and engaged.
Mostly, Urban Diner is a fun look at trends in BC food and wine but this week an issue surfaced that seems worthy of discussion here. The connection is my consistent view that citizens need watchdogs to ensure the safety of manufactured products and foods that we routinely use and ingest. Without help of impartial oversight, how can citizens protect their families from whatever industry throws at us.
In a discussion of meat glue — “the meat industry’s dirty secret” — one UD contributor wrote this,
“FFS, is there an end to the endless lies we are subjected to in the name of profit?”
The subject was transglutaminase, smething classified as a GRAS product. OK, you might be asking, “FFS, what does that mean?” GRAS is a regulatory term “generally regarded as safe.” According to the American FDA, transglutaminase, or meat glue, is GRAS. Health Canada also approves the product, although not without criticism.
FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform) asks “How effective is Canada’s meat-inspection system?”
More controversy has surrounded “meat glue”. The “glue” is a natural protein derived from cow or pig blood. It allows meat processors to stick together various lumps of meat into a regular-looking steak, roast, or kebab. In the meat business, it’s known as “restructured beef”.
Canada allows the product to be sold here, but the European parliament rejected it for sale in the EU in May because of concerns that artificial steaks could mislead the public. “Consumers in Europe should be able to trust that they are buying a real steak or ham, not pieces of meat that have been glued together,” Jo Lienen, chair of the parliament’s environment committee, said during debate on the issue.
The glue also raises food-safety issues, says Keith Warriner, an associate professor of food science at the University of Guelph, in a phone interview from his office. If there is a bacteria outbreak, it’s much harder to figure out the source when chunks of meat from multiple cows were combined.
Also, the products need to be fully cooked, like ground beef, to kill bacteria. A regular steak is safe to eat medium-rare because only its surface has bacteria. But when different cuts of meat are blended together, the product may have contaminated surfaces on the inside, and it has to be cooked to an internal temperature of 71 ° C (160 ° F). This, Warriner says, could lead to confusion among consumers used to cooking their steaks medium-rare (63 ° C, or 145 ° F).
The lesson is know your food supplier. Deal with folks like the family at Moccia Urbani Foods at 2276 East Hastings. Their real business is dry cured natural products – simply fabulous – but three days a week, their small store opens for retail sales. Please though, do not buy the last of the pork belly or bacon. Leave it, in case that’s my day to shop. BTW, at Moccia, for their products, they can can name the breed of heritage animal and the farm that produced it. Or, if that East Vancouver supplier is not convenient, ask around for a similar one. We must support the ethical food providers. That may not even cost more when you factor in shrinkage and waste.
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