Don't Believe These Myths About Chicken Nuggets

During the 2014 Superbowl, McDonald's Canada paid for an ad explaining the process behind the making of their chicken nuggets. According to the description, this was in response to a popular question, exemplified by Armand R. from Edmonton's, "What are legitimately in McNuggets is there pink goop?" Putting aside the syntax, the important point is that years after the initial pink slime controversy, McDonald's was still struggling with the mythic meme that is pink slime.

The idea that McDonald's sculpts their nuggets out of pink slime seems to have spawned from two of Jamie Oliver's health crusades. In one, he douses beef in ammonia to dramatize how the meat industry treats American beef. In the other, he prepares chicken nuggets for children by blending a chicken into a paste. The only connection between the two topics, however, is a widely shared photo of what looks like a long strain of strawberry soft serve. Some sources claim the photo as evidence of pink slime. Others that nuggets are made from mechanically separated chicken. 

In all probability, the myth of pink slime residing in chicken nuggets is due to the fact that the picture looks like pink slime. Pink slime, however, is, as Inverse explains, lean finely textured beef trimmings that are used to filter ground beef products. In fact, McDonald's did use pink slime, but in their burgers, not their nuggets. As Time reported in 2012 though, the Oliver-fueled outcry against pink slime forced them to remove it from their burgers.

What is mechanically separated chicken?

So, strictly speaking, there is no pink slime in chicken nuggets. However, loosely speaking, there is pink slime in chicken nuggets in the sense that they use mechanically separated chicken. Years of people using the terms interchangeably has muddied the issue considerably.

According to Snopes, mechanically separated meat is the process of removing meat tissues from the bones of animals. The meat gathered in this manner is used for foods where presentation matters less, such as chicken nuggets or hot dogs. It should be noted, however, that since 2004, mechanically separated beef has been illegal in the U.S. due to concerns about mad cow disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently states that eating mechanically separated poultry is safe to eat, but requires appropriate labelling.

Like pink slime, McDonald's did use mechanically separated chicken, but stopped in 2003 in favor of white meat chicken. When it comes to chicken nuggets in general, the National Chicken Council states that mechanically separated chicken is not typically used for chicken nuggets while pink slime never is. Chicken nuggets, they explain, are essentially chicken meatballs, ground blobs of chicken meat shaped into discs. 

Here they also lay to rest the final pink slime related myth: chicken nuggets are held together with meat glue. Meat glue, HuffPost reports, are transglutaminase, an enzyme that binds together different meat bits. With chicken nuggets, however, the meat naturally sticks together with the breading's help. Basically, chicken nuggets are still somewhat gross, but not that monstrous.