What’s Up With Mechanically Separated Meat?

Mechanically separated meat (MSM) has courted controversy for nearly 50 years now but it still remains a food material that is often used in patties, burgers, sausages including bologna and mortadella, and other meat-based foods.

It has a number of names including mechanically deboned meat (MDM) and mechanically recovered or mechanically reclaimed meat (MRM). 

This type of recovered meat is mainly muscle which has been retained on the bone following other types of extraction. In most cases the main cuts of meat have been removed from the animal carcass before this type of processing occurs.

It is viewed as a valuable source of protein and in the light of recent trends to recover as much food material as possible is being assessed again as governments seek ways to reduce animal waste and get value from agricultural produce as a food-grade ingredient.

The Technology Of Producing Mechanically Separated Meat

Mechanically separated or mechanically deboned meat looks like a paste or batter if a high pressure process is used. In its physical form is looks very unlike deboned meat that has been generated by hand.

The low pressure process produces MSM which is similar in appearance to minced meat. It uses mechanical scraping methods for this purpose.

The USDA posted a description of it from July 17th, 2019 as a product formed by forcing bones with any attached edible meat through a sieve or other device under high pressure. This separated the bone from edible meat muscle and tissue.

Some bone particles are permitted in MSM. 

It is not the same material as ground beef, ground chicken etc.

Microbiological Safety

In Europe, EFSA published a statement on the health risks and detection methods needed for dealing with MSM. This followed EFSA’s Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) developing a model to identify MSM from other types of meat. According to this model and the findings of a scientific opinion, they reasoned that the risk of microbial growth increases with the use of high pressure processes.


The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in 1982 published a final rule that stated MSM was safe to use and with it a standard identity for it as a food product. Prior to this, there had been a series of restrictions for its use in various products.

Following the issue of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis in the mid-80s, it was apparent that meat farming practices needed to change and the use of mechanically deboned meat was called into question. In 2004, the USA’s FSIS passed new regulations in the light of BSE. Nowadays, mechanically separated beef is regarded as inedible and banned from use as human food. 

However in the USA, mechanically separated pork can be used as an ingredient in human food but must be labelled as that in the ingredient declaration.

The same approach to labeling in the USA also covers mechanically separated poultry meat. The species used must be identified such as chicken and turkey as in ‘mechanically separated chicken’ for example.

The Code of Federal Regulations is very clear about the maximum size of bone particles allowed in mechanically separated meat. These limits are:

  • livestock: 0.5 mm x 0.85 mm
  • poultry: 1.5 mm x 2.0 mm

These are defined in  Part 9 CFR 319.5 and 9 CFR 381.173.

Only products labeled with mechanically separated meat or poultry may contain limited amounts of bone particles. There is also a limit on the calcium content of recovered meat which helps to define it.

Nutritional Value

One of the main benefits of this ingredient is the minimising of waste by producing a protein resource. It has also been a source of calcium when added to products such as beef burgers and patties but this is no longer applicable given the restrictions on mechanically separate beef.


Field, R.A. 1974. Mechanically deboned meat. Proc. Meat Industry Research Conference. p. 35.
Field. R.A.. Krugeel. W.G. and Rilev. M.L. (1976). Characteristics of  mechanically deboned meat, hand-separated meat and bone residue from bones destined for rendering. J. Anim. Sci. 43: pp. 755.
Field, R.A. and Riley, M.L. (1974). Characteristics of meat from mechanically deboned lamb breasts. J. Food Sci. 39: pp. 851.
Field, R.A.. Riley, M.L. and Corbridge, M.H. (1974a). Characterization  of mechanically deboned hot and cold mutton carcasses. J. Food Sci. 39: pp. 282.
Field, R.A., Riley, M.L. and Corbridge. M.H. (1974b). Influence of yield on calcium content of mechanically deboned lamb and mutton. J. Food Sci. 39: pp. 285.
Field, R.A., Riley, M.L., Mellow, F.C.. Corbridge. M.H. and Kotula, A.W. (1974c). Bone composition in cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry. J. Anim. Sci. 39: pp. 493.
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