Recently, some have raised concern regarding a food ingredient known as Transglutaminase (TG); nicknaming the enzyme “meat glue.” Reports have sparked inaccurate perceptions about the safe use of TG. Here’s what you need to know about TG aka “meat glue.”
What is Transglutaminase (TG)?
TG is an enzyme that is found naturally in plants, animals, and in the human body. Enzymes are proteins that create a natural (chemical) reaction in food, and are commonly used in food preparation. TG is used to safely bind proteins such as those found in meats together, which is why it is helpful in creating creative and popular dishes our families have grown to enjoy such as a bacon-wrapped beef filet that may be served at your favorite restaurant. Other safely used binding processes include egg whites or gelatin. The use of TG reflects the evolution of this practice by famous chefs and culinary experts, and contributes to the creation of well-known and popular dishes.
Contrary to popular belief, TG is not widely used. It’s only used in about 0.3% of all meat consumed in the US. And, TG represents a fraction of a total product’s content.
Is TG safe?
Yes. TG is safe to consume and is currently classified by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Other examples of GRAS ingredients include citric acid (provides a natural, sour taste and preservative qualities); cornstarch (to help thicken food); and caffeine (a natural ingredient in coffee and tea).
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved the use of TG for use in meat and poultry products. In addition, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has verified the safety of the enzyme for meat and poultry products that have been developed to reduce sodium or fat content.
To date, TG has proven to be a safe way of combining meat products to satisfy the needs of our growing population. TG does not increase or promote the contamination of meats; it does not affect the allergenicity of proteins, and the enzyme is broken down when the food is thoroughly cooked reaching a safe internal temperature which also kills unwanted bacteria like E.coli or Salmonella.
Why is TG used?
TG is safely used with meats to improve the texture or bind different cuts of meat together. Its most common uses include:
- Making meats uniform cook evenly for safety, diminishing waste adding value, and improving the appearance of the food;
- Binding meats together (such as sausages without casings);
- Forming novel meat combinations (ex. beef and bacon); and
- Producing special effects with food (ex. meat noodles, meat and vegetable pastas, etc.)
Outside of meat items, TG is also commonly found in dairy products, for example, to change the texture of yogurt, and bakery products, such as to make crusts hard in artesian breads.
How is it made?
TG comes from the soil and is naturally-occurring. It has been formally studied since the late 1950s. However, it was not until the early 1990s that food scientists were able to produce large quantities of TG for use in food preparation. TG is currently produced through fermentation and is the same enzyme that occurs naturally in meat and fish.
How will I know if a meat product I buy contains TG?
Products that use TG are required to use the terms “formed” or “reformed” with the product name. Therefore, if a beef product uses TG, its label may read “reformed beef.” Products must also declare the presence of the enzyme on the list of ingredients located on a product’s label.
The Bottom Line: Here’s What You Need to Know . . .
When used properly, TG is safe to consume. No known food safety issues have been documented involving products made with TG since its introduction into our food supply over twenty years ago. Further, products using TG make up only a small portion of the total meat supply, and foods that do incorporate the enzyme are required by law to disclose its presence.