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Mechanically Separated Chicken ('Pink Slime')

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FW: GUESS WHAT THIS IS...
Mechanically Separated Chicken

Netlore Archive: Viral image documents the manufacture of mechanically separated chicken, a processed food ingredient made using machinery that strips poultry meat off the bone and passes it through a sieve to form a smooth, thick paste.

Image source: unknown, circulating via email

Description: Viral image & text
Circulating since: 2010 (in this form)
Status: MIXED (see details below)


Text example #1:
Email contributed by Tina M., Jan. 18, 2012:

Subject: Can You Guess What McDonald's Food Item This Is?

Say hello to mechanically separated chicken. It’s what all fast-food chicken is made - things like chicken nuggets and patties. Also, the processed frozen chicken in the stores is made from it.

Basically, the entire chicken is smashed and pressed through a sieve - bones, eyes, guts, and all. it comes out looking like this.

There’s more: because it’s crawling with bacteria, it will be washed with ammonia, soaked in it, actually. Then, because it tastes gross, it will be reflavored artificially. Then, because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial color.

But, hey, at least it tastes good, right?


Text example #2:
Email contributed by Fred B., May 27, 2011:

WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS IS?????

SOFT SERVE ICE-CREAM????

NO!!!!!!!!!

Say hello to mechanically separated chicken. It’s what all fast-food chicken is made from - things like chicken nuggets and patties. Also, the processed frozen chicken in the stores is made from it.

Basically, the entire chicken is smashed and pressed through a sieve - bones, eyes, guts, and all. it comes out looking like this.

There’s more: because it’s crawling with bacteria, it will be washed with ammonia, soaked in it, actually. Then, because it tastes gross, it will be re-flavoured artificially. Then, because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial color.

But, hey, at least it tastes good, right?

High five, America!


Analysis: The above image has circulated so far and wide and for such a long time without attribution that its exact origin is difficult to pin down (it may have first appeared on this food blog in 2009, for example, but even in that case the photo is uncredited and I've not been able to make contact with the blog's author to discuss it).

In any case, the image probably does depict the production of the processed food ingredient known in the industry as mechanically separated chicken (MSC), mechanically separated poultry (MSP), or, most generically, mechanically separated meat (MSM). It has also come to be popularly known as "pink slime." or "pink goop."

Mechanically separated poultry is defined on the USDA website as follows:

MECHANICALLY SEPARATED POULTRY is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue. Mechanically separated poultry has been used in poultry products since 1969. In 1995, a final rule on mechanically separated poultry said it would be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as "mechanically separated chicken or mechanically separated turkey" (depending on the kind of poultry used) in the ingredients statement. The final rule became effective November 4, 1996.

Contrary to what has been claimed, however, mechanically separated chicken is not typically found in fast food items such as chicken nuggets and chicken patties, according to MeatSafety.org, a website maintained by the American Meat Institute (a trade association). McDonald's has repeatedly denied that its Chicken McNuggets contain MSP. The McDonald's website states:

The only meat used in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets is chicken breast meat. The white meat is minced before being shaped into nuggets, and then coated with a specially seasoned batter at our trusted suppliers, such as Keystone Foods.

In February 2014, McDonald's released a video demonstrating precisely how Chicken McNuggets are made.

Among the commercially sold products that are made with mechanically separated poultry, according to MeatSafety.org, are chicken and turkey franks, lunch meats, and "other processed products."

As stated above, USDA regulations require that all products containing MSP be labeled as such. Moreover, all mechanically separated meat products are USDA inspected and subject to the same quality standards as unprocessed meats. They do not include "bones, eyes, guts, and all." Such byproducts as they do contain, if any, must be listed on ingredient labels.

Though poultry is sometimes treated with ammonium hydroxide during processing to lower acidity and retard bacterial growth, it's inaccurate to say the meat is "soaked" in ammonia. Ammonium hydroxide is a common food additive deemed GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA and safe and suitable for use in the production of meat and poultry products by the FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA).


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Sources and further reading:

Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms
USDA Fact Sheet, 9 August 2013

Q & A About Mechanically Separated Poultry
MeatSafety.org, 2012

Hot Dogs and Food Safety
USDA Fact Sheet, 6 August 2013

The Photo Making People Rethink Chicken Nuggets
Salon.com, 7 October 2010

Guess What's in the Picture
Fooducate Blog, 3 August 2009


Last updated 02/06/14

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