NOBULL: Euro agency weighs in on mechanically separated meat safety

Euro agency weighs in on mechanically separated meat safety

By Rita Jane Gabbett on 4/11/2013

High pressure production processes can increase the microbial hazards associated with mechanically separated meat products, according to the European Food Safety Authority.

Microbiological and chemical hazards associated with mechanically separated meat derived from poultry and swine are similar to those related to non-mechanically separated meat (fresh meat, minced meat or meat preparations). However, the risk of microbial growth increases with the use of high pressure production processes, the agency stated.

EFSA’s opinion concludes that high pressure production processes result in greater muscle fiber degradation and an associated release of nutrients, which provide a favorable substrate for bacterial growth. 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.

Mechanically separated meat is derived from the meat left on animal carcasses once the main cuts have been removed. This meat can be mechanically removed and used in other foods. There are two main types of mechanically separated meat: “high-pressure” mechanically separated meat, which is paste-like and can be used in products such as hotdogs; and “low-pressure” mechanically separated meat, similar in appearance to minced meat.

EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) considered different parameters to distinguish mechanically separated meat from non-mechanically separated meat. The BIOHAZ Panel found that, based on currently available data, calcium (released from bone during processing) is the most appropriate chemical parameter. EFSA’s scientific experts developed a model that uses calcium levels to support the identification of mechanically separated meat products.

This model is meant to assist policy makers as well as food operators and inspectors in differentiating mechanically separated meat from non-mechanically separated meat.

In order to improve the differentiation between mechanically separated meat obtained through low pressure techniques and hand deboned meat, EFSA recommends the use of specifically designed studies to collect data on potential indicators.

Currently in the EU, mechanically separated meat can be produced from poultry and hogs, but not from cattle, sheep and goats. Mechanically separated meat must be clearly labeled as such and does not count as part of the stated meat content of the product. High pressure mechanically separated meat must be immediately frozen and can only be used in cooked products.