Beware of 'meat glue' in your meals

When is a steak not a steak? When it's made of "meat glue," of course.

Meat glue, if you haven't heard of it yet, is the nickname for a substance that can stick leftover scraps of meat together the way Krazy Glue can stick hardhat-wearing construction workers to steel beams.

Once the scraps set -- usually after a few hours in the fridge -- even an expert chef can't tell where one piece ends and the other begins.

And if an expert can't tell, what chance do you have?

None -- so to unsuspecting consumers, these reassembled scraps become a single roast or steak, and no one's any wiser.

In one video you can see right now on YouTube, a chef shows how meat glue can turn leftover meat bits into a phony "filet mignon" that looked exactly like the real deal.

Unfortunately, you can't avoid it by just giving up beef. Meat glue is also used to stitch together pieces of chicken, fish, and even some of the protein chunks used in vegetarian dishes.

That last one might be a problem for vegetarians, since at least some meat glue is made of animal blood. The rest comes from fermented bacteria -- and both types come with risks to go way beyond paying filet mignon prices for day-old stew meat.

Meat -- especially unwanted leftover scraps tossed around in restaurant kitchens, factory plants, and the back rooms of supermarket butcher departments -- can be crawling with bacteria, at least on the surface.

When you cook meat, they all die.

But when meat scraps are glued together, bacteria from the surface gets trapped inside -- where they might be able to survive cooking and make you sick.

There's no way to tell if you're being served meat glue in a restaurant unless you ask. Even then, you're going to have to hope that honesty is on the menu along with honest-to-goodness steaks.

In processed foods, meat glue is called "transglutaminase," but you won't always find that on the ingredients panel. Watch for words like "formed" or "re-formed" on the label instead.

I'd say that shows why you should only buy fresh meats from a butcher, but butchers can use this stuff as well -- and you won't know unless you ask.

So be sure to ask.