The lawsuit against Taco Bell for selling meat tacos that contain only 35% beef has opened up, excuse the expression, a can of worms in the kitchens of chain restaurants. ABC News‘s Alan Farnham finds that’s only the beginning of the deceptions being perpetrated by corporate purveyors of “meat”:
…Kantha Shelke, chief science officer of Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago food science and nutrition research firm, says it’s frankly impossible for a consumer to know how much meat is in a food item at Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King or any other fast food restaurant. That’s because such disclosure is not required. Even when an item is touted as being “all-beef,” it may be only 70 percent meat and not run afoul of regulations.
Non-meat ingredients in meat items include ones that add flavor or promote consistency, and binders. “American consumers think they’re being cheated out of their money when they hear that term,” says Shelke. “But logically speaking, binders are a very natural thing. They prevent water from coming out during cooking. When you make meatloaf at home, you use breadcrumbs for the same reason—to hold the moisture.”
As for the meat itself, some of it can be&well, not exactly what you think of when you think of meat.
Bill Marler, an plaintiffs’ attorney specializing in food safety lawsuits, says that it’s common for up to 10 percent to 12 percent of that juicy burger you’re about to pop into your mouth to be “ammoniated beef product”scraps and trimmings left over from slaughter that used to be relegated for use in pet food.
They no longer are, thanks to a treatment process that uses ammonium hydroxide to protect meat made from scraps against bacterial contamination, thus rendering it fit–at least according to regulators–for human consumption.
The product is produced by Beef Products Inc. of South Dakota, whose website says that if you’re eating a hamburger in a “quick-service restaurant” (the food industry’s preferred term for fast food), “…chances are you’ll be eating product produced by BPI.”
Rich Jochum, a corporate administrator for BPI, says that the process “minutely adjusts” the level of ammonium hydroxide occurring naturally in meat, and that it enjoys USDA approval. Further, ammonium hydroxide has received GRAS (“Generally Regarded As Safe”) recognition by the FDA.
Marler toured BPI’s plant 10 months ago and describes it as, “the Willy Wonka of meat factories–lots of dials and whirring stuff, all stainless steel and immaculately clean.” A conveyor belt brings in the leftovers of carcasses from which steaks and roasts have already been removed. After processing it emerges as “a pink, meat-looking type of substance.” It’s then frozen, cut, and packed into 60-pound blocks.
The fast-food industry’s meat magic doesn’t stop at burgers: The steak you’re eating may not be what you expect.
Shelke says some middle-market steak house chains serve “fabricated steak”an FDA term referring to steak-like objects formed from pulverized flesh. “The end result looks like a beefsteak but in reality has been extruded. Meat is broken down into its components and then re-formed to look like the original. You think you’re getting the same steak as if you were at a real Texas steakhouse.”
The telltale sign that you’re not is the meat’s uniformity: all the steaks have the same look, size and same consistency. Another clue: Steaks right off the steer have marbling; they have tendons. Fabricated steaks have neither…
[Be sure to read Farnham’s entire report at ABC News. I guarantee you’ll think twice about eating meat at a chain restaurant afterwards.]