You've Been Eating Mechanically Separated Chicken And You Don't Even Know It

Take a look at the ingredients list of food products including Slim Jims, hot dogs, and other inexpensive meat-based foods that don't need to actually look like meat, and you're bound to encounter mechanically separated chicken or turkey, usually as one of the primary ingredients. The name of this ingredient is pretty ominous – what exactly is being separated, and why are machines needed? – so what exactly is it, and how is it made?

According to the USDA, "Mechanically separated poultry (MSP) 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," which is then treated with a small amount of ammonium hydroxide as an anti-microbial agent. The definition of "edible tissue" is stretching it a bit here; it essentially refers to anything left on the bones, including nerves, blood vessels, cartilage, and skin, as well as a small amount of meat. The resulting product is essentially the poultry equivalent of "lean finely textured beef" also known as "pink slime," even though the production method is different. Consumption of mechanically separated beef was banned in 2004 due to fear of mad cow disease.

Mechanically separated meat (which also includes pork), is found in plenty of foods, including chicken nuggets and frozen pre-formed chicken patties, but while there's a limit on mechanically separated pork in hot dogs (20 percent), there's no legal limit on mechanically separated chicken in hot dogs, so you may want to check the ingredients list before your next cookout.