Wednesday 22 March 2017

Bright pink chemistry

"Jesus and lord of mercy, what is that?"  That's the comment of Cenk Uygur when presented with a picture [L in all it's technicolour glory] of MRM, mechanically recovered meat. Uygur's co-presenter Ana Kasparian otoh figures that it's soft-serve ice-cream but she is wrong as her nose would tell her.  These two were [the link is 2010] and are presenters on the Internet News channel Young Turks. There's something rather sweet in that line up because Uygur was born in Istanbul and lived there until he was eight and Kasparian's great-grandparents barely survived the Armenian genocide carried out by Turkey 100 years ago. The US is a healing melting pot and don't let the current administration convince you otherwise.

I've given my 2c worth about MRM before which even cited the same Jesus and Lord of Mercy movie clip. It's one thing to lash in the tendons, beaks and wobbly-bits into the soft-centre portion of a chicken-nugget - you can hardly object if it tastes alright and doesn't bite back. It's another matter entirely - because it's dishonest - if you fill up the nuggets with fish-meal because that's cheaper on the international market this month. When I was working in Genetics, TCD in the 1990s, The lads in the lab next door founded Identigen a company based on the idea of DNA analysis of food. Their slogan used to be From the Pasture to The Plate and their food traceablity program can track your [dodgy] hamburger back to a particular now-dead cow from a particular herd. Whatever about the past, I want to assure you that McDonalds no longer use MRM in making the nuggets - evidence. It's still a unpretty repellent process but mmmm they taste so good, because McD's have really good food engineers. The cost of a dead chicken is now so low, that it may be irrelevant to try to recover every scrap of fat&protein from the carcass.

Q. Why so cheap?
A. because broiler chickens have a frighteningly efficient feed-conversion ratio. From hatch to 1.8kg broiler takes an astonishing 41 days (just shy of 6 weeks). In the first 3 weeks, the fluffy&adorable chicks scarf down 900g of food on which they ballooooon out to a hefty 635g. The rate of weight packing falls off a tad over the next 3 weeks: getting through another 2.3kg of soy&corn [we'll ignore the penicillin, steroids and hormones], to gain the final 1.2kg of weight for slaughter and market.  You don't need to funnel food into the bird's crops like they do for Strasbourg geese; just present them with ad lib food and water.

One of Identigen's success stories hinged on ham. In the old days, ham was preserved by immersing the better cuts of the annual pig in a trough and covering the whole thing with a mix of sea/table salt NaCl and saltpetre  KNO3, periodically you'd turn the meat and rub the salts into the flesh and eventually the grey hunk would lose a lot of water and acquire the rich pink hue from the reaction of the myoglobin in the muscle and the nitrite. The nitrite is produced from nitrate by lactic acid bacteria LABs like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. That all took time and in the food industry time is money and money is tight. Why not, some dastardly and successful food-engineer suggested, make a brine of NaCl and KNO3 and inject the stuff into the joint of meat - much more efficient. That was given the okay by the EU and the FDA so long as no more than 20% w/w of the ham was injected brine. Guess what proportion was the median concentration of brine in commercial hams: 19.5% is close enough.  The problem with this protocol is that the brine leaks out when the meat is cooked and the muscle fibres tense up under the heat. So food engineering solution Mark II injected not brine but a slurry of water (not more than 20%!), salt and protein powder. The protein absorbed the water as it all cooked and the punters didn't have white snot leaking into the pan from their rashers. For food engineers any old protein will do and Identigen smoked a number of rogue traders by showing that there was a helluva lot of Vietnamese fishmeal in 'Irish' hams.

I used the idea of DNA analysis being used to identify adulterated meat as a class-room exercise when the Horseburger Protocols were super-topical back in 2013. Irish folk love the voice of Maurice Chevalier [although Zank 'eaven for liddle girls may give moderns a frisson of pedophilia] but revolt at the trade which gives that family it's name. Horses are for riding about on the Curragh or winning races at Cheltenham and emphatically not for eating. Horse-meat is for them foreign Johnnies.

This-all is hot news in Canada because CBC consumer watchdog program Marketplace sent a few samples of Subway's 'chicken' off to the Canadian equivalent of Identigen and broadcast their finding that, according to the DNA  Subway's Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich and Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki were only 50% Gallus gallus and the rest was Soya Glycine max. Subway are shouting false and uttering cease, desist and retract notices to the tune of CAN$210 million. At the moment CBC are not being frightened into submission and are standing by their claims. Shrieking False and Misleading in a very loud voice is not the way science is carried on. It's more the tenor of political debate across the water. We'll have to see whether evidence or assertion carries the day in the commercial world.

No comments:

Post a Comment