Outline Circulating message describes the making of mechanically separated chicken and includes a photograph of the resulting chicken paste. The message claims that mechanically separated chicken is used to make McDonald's chicken nuggets.
Mechanically separated chicken is real. Many food items such as hot dogs and chicken nuggets may indeed contain mechanically separated poultry. However, McDonald's chicken nuggets are no longer made from mechanically separated chicken.
AKA Mechanically Separated Poultry or Mechanically Separated Chicken
The photo above has been extensively passed around recently, and for good reason: it's a peek into the rarely-seen world of mechanically separated meat, or Advanced Meat Recovery (AMR)..
Someone figured out in the 1960s that meat processors can eek out a few more percent of profit from chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows by scraping the bones 100% clean of meat. This is done by machines, not humans, by passing bones leftover after the initial cutting through a high pressure sieve. The paste you see in the picture above is the result. 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 reflavoured artificially. Then, because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial colour.
High five, America!
The resulting paste goes on to become the main ingredient in many of America's favorite mass-produced and processed meat-like foods and snacks: bologna, hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, Slim Jim-like jerkys, and of course the ever-polarizing chicken nugget, where the paste from the photo above was likely destined.
That late night/early morning feed at McDonalds doesn’t look so good now does it!
This widely circulated message claims that many popular foods and snacks - including McDonald's Chicken McNuggets - are made from chicken that has gone through a process known as mechanical separation. The message includes a photograph of an unappetising pink goo that is the end result of the mechanical separation process. According to the message, the mechanically separated chicken is "crawling with bacteria" and is therefore soaked in ammonia .
Mechanically separated poultry is real and it is true that many foods use poultry processed in this manner. America's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) notes in a Meat Preparation Fact Sheet:
Mechanically Separated Poultry (MSP)
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 the late 1960's. In 1995, a final rule on mechanically separated poultry said it was safe and could be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" in the product's ingredients statement. The final rule became effective November 4, 1996. Hot dogs can contain any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.
It should be noted that, while mechanically separated poultry is considered safe and is widely used, mechanically separated beef was banned for use as a human food in 2004 due to FSIS regulations to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.
There is no reason to doubt that the photograph depicts some form of mechanically separated poultry or meat. On his television program Food Revolution, chef Jamie Oliver processors a chicken carcase and ends up with a pinkish goo quite similar to the stuff depicted in the above photograph.
And, the end result of the meat processing procedure depicted in the following National Geographic video also looks very similar to the substance shown in the above photograph:
However, while many foods do contain mechanically separated poultry, the claim that McDonald's uses such chicken for its chicken nuggets is not true. McDonald's switched to chicken nuggets made with all white meat back in 2003. And, on its US website, McDonald's notes:
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.
As noted above, in the US, food items that use mechanically separated poultry must be labeled as such. McDonald's chicken nuggets are not labelled as "mechanically separated chicken or turkey".
An Australian variant of the message is also circulating. However, Australian McDonald's stores also use only "quality Australian chicken breast meat" rather than mechanically separated poultry.
The message also claims that mechanically separated chicken is washed in ammonia. In fact, one type of ammonia, ammonium hydroxide, is used commonly and extensively in food processing and has been for many years. The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have determined that ammonium hydroxide is safe to use as an antimicrobial to control pathogens in meat and poultry products.