EFSA finds detection method for pink slime

Wednesday, 03 April, 2013

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released a scientific opinion on public health risks and detection methods for mechanically separated meat. EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) has also developed a model to help identify mechanically separated meat and differentiate it from other types of meat.

Once the main cuts have been removed from an animal carcase, the remaining meat can be mechanically removed from the carcase and used in other foods. There are two types of mechanically separated meat: ‘high-pressure’ mechanically separated meat, which is paste-like and can be used in products such as hot dogs (also known, infamously, as ‘pink slime’); and ‘low-pressure’ mechanically separated meat, which is similar in appearance to minced meat.

While the EFSA’s opinion concludes that microbiological risks are similar for mechanically and non-mechanically separated meat, it does suggest that high-pressure production processes can increase the risk of microbial growth. Mechanical separation results in greater muscle fibre degradation and an associated release of nutrients that “provide a favourable substrate for bacterial growth”, the EFSA says.

BIOHAZ considered different parameters to distinguish mechanically and non-mechanically separated meat. The panel found that calcium, released from bones during processing, is the most appropriate chemical parameter. EFSA’s experts developed a model that uses calcium levels to support the identification of mechanically separated meat products.

The EFSA says this model will assist policy makers, as well as food operators and inspectors, to differentiate mechanically separated meat from non-mechanically separated meat.

The full scientific opinion is available on the EFSA website: www.efsa.europa.eu.

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