Posted by Linda Bonvie
October 22, 2013
Mechanically separated chicken, or “chicken ooze” as we call it here at Food Identity Theft, has turned up in a surprising number of major brand-name foods, many designed especially to be consumed by kids. As promised last week, we’ve listed a number of product names at the end of this blog.
But in our quest to find out more about this revolting-sounding ingredient, described by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as: “…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,” we’ve learned a lot more about chicken ooze than anyone would want to know. Facebook viewers have also raised some good questions about this icky stuff as well.
So if you’re interested in knowing more, read on…
Not your grandmother’s chicken soup
Some readers on Facebook said they didn’t mind the idea of “bones and giblets” and thought that it sounded similar to the way chicken soup is made, also asking if chicken ooze is treated with a pathogen-killing additive, as is “pink slime.”
First off, chicken soup this ain’t. Mechanically separated poultry, or MSP, is basically the recycled result of waste material from poultry production. The bones on the mostly meat-stripped carcass (called the frame or cage), including skin, along with any still-attached feathers, necks, and remaining organs, is run through a high-pressure crushing machine in order to extract every last penny of profit. If a chicken or turkey “frame” does not go into this bone-crushing, extraction machine, it is sent to the rendering plant.
In essence, MSP is nothing more than a cheap “extender” that costs around 10 cents a pound. It’s also considered a high-risk ingredient for salmonella and other pathogens that can cause food-borne illnesses.
As to whether it’s treated with a chemical to sanitize it as is its “pink slime” counterpart, the answer is quite possibly. That appears to be up to the plant processing the chicken ooze.
What we can tell you is that the majority of chicken produced in the U.S. is so “dirty” that it’s routinely submerged in a chlorine “bath” in an attempt to reduce salmonella, and that other antimicrobial sprays and dips can be used during processing as well. According to a Mark Bittman piece in The New York Times, Sweden can produce chicken with no salmonella. “Are they that much smarter than us?” he asks.
Despite all of the chemicals applied during poultry production to reduce pathogens, an expert on the topic was quoted in an industry trade publication as saying that samples of mechanically separated chicken and turkey will test positive for salmonella up to 90 percent of the time!
Where is the USDA in all of this?
Some readers seemed to think that as long as chicken ooze is okay with government regulators, then it’s fine to eat, and one in particular (who sounded a whole lot like a representative of the chicken processing industry) stated that it was in fact “safe.”
The USDA’s handling of the problem of contaminated poultry has long involved a rather interesting “do something/do nothing” approach.
Since 1996, the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has required poultry plants to put in place a monitoring program called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). The goal of this plan, done in conjunction with FSIS inspectors, is to address the different areas of “hazards” in a facility and take the necessary steps to reduce them.
This year, for the first time, mechanically separated poultry will become part of the required sampling done for salmonella contamination. But don’t think that this will keep contaminated chicken ooze off the market. If a plant “fails” its sample testing, it will merely be asked to clean up its act, with more samples to be taken at a later date.
Also, salmonella is not considered an “adulterant,” meaning known contaminated poultry can continue to wind its way through the marketplace quite legally. On top of that, any mechanically separated chicken or turkey destined for “ready-to-eat” products (such as Chef Boyardee Mini ABC’s & 123’s) are exempt from this federally required pathogen testing.
Chicken ooze cheat sheet
With over two billion pounds of mechanically separated chicken being produced yearly (800 million pounds of which are exported, mostly to Mexico), here are some of the yucky facts we’ve learned about this “ooze”:
- Mechanically separated chicken or turkey (called MSP) is also sold to restaurants, schools and institutions to cook up in their own dishes. In fact, Perdue Foodservice offers frozen tubes of “turkey ooze” for sale to such places said to be “great for burgers, meatballs or sauces.”
- Like high fructose corn syrup, you can’t buy mechanically separated poultry in the supermarket. It’s an ingredient that’s either incorporated into store-bought products or available exclusively for restaurant or institutional use.
- It’s a cheap ingredient that sells for around 10 cents a pound.
- If poultry carcasses don’t turn into MSP, they are considered a waste product and sent to the rendering plant.
- MSP contains an unknown amount of bone marrow.
- It’s “allowed” to contain up to one percent “bone solids.” Processors are allowed to maintain “voluntary” records of bone particle size.
- It can contain levels of fluoride, a toxic substance, that could possibly have health implications in infants and young children. (the FSIS at one time proposed a restriction on MSP in baby food for that reason, which was later rescinded.)
- It may include what’s called “immature sex glands,” as well as feather particles and hair.
- Nearly all fast food chains, which are generally not regarded as providers of the highest quality food, make a very big point of not using MSP in their products.
- MSP is considered by industry experts to be a very high risk product for salmonella contamination.
- The food industry would prefer if you didn’t know any of this.
- Chef Boyardee Mini ABC’s & 123’s (The can says there is “good stuff inside”)!
- Chef Boyardee Jumbo Spaghetti & Meatballs
- Hormel Chili Turkey (Mechanically separated chicken is the very first ingredient)
- Oscar Mayer Classic Turkey Franks (Mechanically separated turkey is the first ingredient)
- Oscar Mayer Bologna
- Banquet Brown ‘N Serve Turkey Sausage Links
- Weight Watcher’s Smart Ones English Muffin Sandwich Turkey Sausage
- Foster Farms Chicken Franks (Chicken ooze is the first ingredient. It should be noted that Foster Farms is in the midst of a long-running salmonella outbreak, several strains of which are said to be drug-resistant, involving its raw chicken products that have reportedly sickened over 18,000 people since 2012.)
- Libby’s Vienna Sausage (Like the franks, chicken ooze is the number one ingredient.)
- Lunchables Uploaded
- Oscar Mayer Pickle & Pimiento Loaf (Again, chicken ooze is first on the ingredient list.)
- Slim Jim Smoked Snack Stick
- Totino’s Pizza Rolls
- Totino’s Party Pizza Triple Meat
- Foster Farm’s Corn Dogs
- Foster Farms Deli Meats (Chicken ooze is the first ingredient in the chicken bologna.)
If you have any products you would like us to add to this list, take a photo that includes the ingredients and share it with us at our Facebook page.