Hot Dogs Food Processing

The Horror of Hot Dogs: Mechanically Separated Chicken

Do you remember the hot dog scandal a few years ago, when people found out how cheap, processed sausages were made? Well that cheap meat is still on our shelves, so if you don’t remember the details, then read on…


Mechanically separated chicken

In the 1950’s, food manufacturers developed the process of mechanically stripping waste bits of meat, connective tissue and skin from animal carcasses. The process effectively turned waste meat into saleable meat as the recovered meat was then used to create low cost food products to sell to the public. The process was designed to reduce waste and make the meat processing process more valuable.

Health and safety is important

Once the valuable cuts of meat are removed, the remaining scraps of meat and skin are filtered to remove the bones, before being ground and pulverised into a paste. Since bits of spinal cord from the carcasses often ended up in the paste, concerns were raised in the 1980’s about the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease. Because of this, the UK tightened restrictions on the processing procedure to ensure that the cord wasn’t present in the end product. Eventually, this restriction was upgraded, both in the UK and in the US, to prohibit the use of mechanically stripped meat (MSM) from cows, on the basis that it was unfit for human consumption.

Beef MSM might have been taken off the menu, but chicken MSM remained on the UK consumer’s plate and is still legally sold in the UK today as food. Since the same processing procedure used for cows, is also used for chicken (and pork), it can be reasonably assumed that bits of spinal column continue to end up in the end product, however because there is no risk of BSE, this is not considered to be a health risk. encouragingly states that MSM chicken is both safe and nutritious. In fact, it has a higher nutritional profile than fresh meat as it often contains more calcium and phosphorus1, presumably from bone scrapings that get into the meat during the processing procedure. However, reassuring as this is, let’s delve deeper into what goes into that magnificent end product.

The MSM procedure

After the good cuts of chicken are removed from the carcass, the stripped bones are forcibly pushed against a metal mesh under high pressure. This forces any remaining meat, tendons and muscle fibres to be passed through the sieve and separated from the bones.

Mechanically Separated Chicken
Image Source: Discovery / Science Channel’s “How It’s Made” Hot Dogs episode

The bones are discarded and a pink flesh paste is left. The pink flesh is ground up and mixed with water until it forms a smooth pink paste, which is then used to make products such as hot dogs, sausages, lunch meat and chicken nuggets. Since the processing procedure removes most of the taste from the pink paste, these are added back in, in the form of artificial flavourings and preservatives.

Mechanically Separated Chicken - Pink Slime
Image Source: Discovery / Science Channel’s “How It’s Made” Hot Dogs episode

“Mechanically separated meat is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.” ~ USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) website

If a product contains MSM chicken, it must be legally declared on the title, as ‘mechanically separated’. After the public outcry a few years ago, as the below YouTube video did the rounds on social media, one might be forgiven for thinking that this processing procedure was no longer in use.

But take a look at the ingredients list for this tin of hotdogs, for sale on ASDA’s website today, for 40p:

59% Chicken (Mechanically Separated), Water, Pork Rind, Pork Greaves, Salt, Wheat Flour, Beef Collagen, Casing, Pork Collagen, Pork, Pork Fat, Smoke Flavouring, Stabiliser (E451 (i)), Herbs (contains Celery), Garlic Powder, Preservative (E250), Brine: Water, Smoke Flavouring.

So the next time you pick up a tin of hot dogs in the supermarket, it might just be worth checking the label.


Watch mechanically separated chicken being produced in this YouTube video: Discovery / Science Channel’s “How It’s Made” Hot Dogs episode.




Further reading:

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