Chicken Nuggets: The Other Pink Meat

Michael Kindt, in his fun-loving manner, shocked people as he introduced numerous individuals around the globe to the pink messy goo pictured above. He writes:
Say hello to mechanically separated chicken.

It’s what fast-food chicken is made from—things like chicken nuggets and patties, as well as the processed frozen chicken in the stores.

Basically, the entire chicken is smashed and pressed through a sieve—bones, eyes, guts, and all. It comes out looking like this.

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 reflavored artificially. And because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial color.
But, hey, at least it tastes good, right?

High five America!
To present this news fairly, we must note that the infamous McDonald's McNuggets are no longer made from mechanically separated poultry as defined by the USDA. Several other fast food chains have also done away with mechanically separated meats for most of their items (KFC, for example, uses whole chicken for all but their 'chicken poppers'). But still, lot of the mass-produced chicken nuggets, hotdogs, and meat patties (including frozen dinners and other processed meats you buy in the frozen aisle of the grocery store) are made from mechanically separated chicken/turkey/pork. In general, if the food does not need to maintain its shape, it is cheaper to make from mechanically separated meat. Foods made with mechanically separated poultry animals are also now required to be labeled as containing "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" in their ingredients lists.

While "mechanically separated meat" may apply to several animals slaughtered in this fashion - turkey, chicken and pork - concerns over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) have led to regulations that ban the use of mechanically separated beef cattle since 2004. The USDA states:
Due to FSIS regulations enacted in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef is considered inedible and is prohibited for use as human food. It is not permitted in hot dogs or any other processed product.
Mechanically separated meat also does not actually contain the "bones and all." While it is all put through the same high pressured sieve, the purpose of the process is to force all the tissue matter from the bone - leaving nothing to waste. This was started in the 1960s when machines were first developed that were capable of doing so. Prior to that time, a lot of meat tissue went to waste because manufacturers couldn't get the last pieces of flesh from the bones of animals (it was done by hand).

Anhydrous ammonia is routinely used in packing plants to refrigerate the meat, and it has been known to leak into the meat product. Ammonium hydroxide is also often used as an antibacterial agent when meat is processed. But (again, to be precise) processed meat is not deliberately 'soaked' in ammonia.

Today, there are a number of tasty meat-free, soy-free options for nuggets available at your local whole foods store or in the health section of your local grocery. A favorite here has been the Southwestern Chik'n Wings from Quorn - they are delicious! Learn more about Quorn's use of microprotein (like the protein in mushrooms) here and see all their scrumptious alternative selections if you are shopping for some 'fast food' nuggets.

We also have the option to purchase whole, fresh, 'cruelty-free' meats (although we still have some hesitation as to whether such a thing exists) from our local farmers or whole foods suppliers. Cut them into small pieces, and bread them yourself with a variety of healthy coatings. See one option for home made nugget breading here.

As Jamie Oliver recently reminded us in his "Food Revolution" there are many important reasons to ditch the pink bloody animal mush and eat real food. [See video below for Oliver's 'chicken nugget' experiment.] To learn more about where your food comes from and explore options for better, more responsible, eating for our future, see any of these excellent sources:


1) Fast Food Nation

2) The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids

3) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

4) Food Inc.: A Participant Guide

5) Food Rules: An Eater's Manual

6) The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight and Saving the Planet

7) Diet for a Dead Planet

8) Second Nature: A Gardener's Education

9) Stuffed and Starved: The Battle for the World's Food System

10) The Future of Food

11) Forks Over Knives

12) The China Study

13) Anticancer: A New Way of Life


1) Food Inc. ~ Film Website

2) Fast Food Nation

3) Corn Kings ~ Film Website

4) The Cove ~ Film Website

5) Super Size Me

6) The End of the Line ~ Film Website

7) Food Matters ~ Film Website

8) Forks Over Knives ~ Film Website

9) The Beautiful Truth



  1. Actually, Chick-Fil-A uses real meat (not MSC), and with their sandwiches all being under 500 calories each (cited in Super Size Me), it's the only fast food place that I will eat at. ("It’s what *all* fast-food chicken is made from—things like chicken nuggets and patties, as well as the processed frozen chicken in the stores.") There are also a couple of organic frozen chicken nugget/strip companies that use real chicken pieces (not MSC).

    Now, at home, we eat almost 100% organic, and I maybe eat Chick-Fil-A three or four times a year... But, I also wouldn't let my children eat there. Haha.

    I might be a walking contradiction, but seriously, that "chicken" looks gross.

    Thanks for another great post!

  2. So gross, so glad I stopped eating that stuff over 10 years ago. Really what is in the "meat?" I can't even imagine.

  3. I had NO idea how they made them and now I do.... I haven't eaten there in many many years... I'm so glad this was reposted on FB...People need to know these things!

  4. I just tried to post a long comment and it didn't work :( Basically, I don't think that it's that gross at all. All the other stuff is gross, but not the ground up chicken. I think it's a very western idea to just eat the breast and thighs and it's actually not the most nutritious part of the animal. The bones and organs have TONS of nutrition and they are passed off as waste. I actually was kind of offended that Jamie tried to get the kids grossed out at the carcass the way he chopped it up and said it wasn't "food." I mean, I don't think chicken nuggets are healthy, but not because of the ground up chicken. The stabilizers and flavorings are gross but that was not what he emphasized. There's also the unhealthy oils that they are fried in but that wasn't even mentioned.
    I think we should all be eating more bones and organs and grossing kids out with a chicken carcass is not the way to make us all healthier. IMHO :)
    BTW, I haven't eaten fast food in over 10 years. I just don't think it's a good idea to use bad arguments against it :P

  5. Thank you for this article, the links to books and movies.
    Manu Hipkins, Founder Well Kiddos

  6. Leah,thanks for your comment, and actually I kind of agree with you especially about the Jaime Oliver video--I'm one of those people who saves veggie scraps and rotisserie carcasses to boil the heck out of and make stock so I don't waste anything. To my eyes, what he did in this video is along similar lines--and if the pink goop he made came from an ethically raised and once-healthy bird, I have no problem with the idea of eating it.

    But the question of ammonia still bugs me (though I am confused here; I think it is beef products washed in ammonia, from BPI?), as well as the treatment of the "meat" at all stages of its production...if Jaime and the kids had gone out and played soccer with that chicken before turning it to goop, would they still have eaten it?

    Fact is, though, we as Americans eat way more meat than we need to, and I bet most of us if we spent the same dollars on less and higher quality meat would be perfectly healthy.

  7. As far as it being soaked in ammonia...from what I remember on Food, Inc., they interviewed a man who was processing beef and he specifically said the products was rinsed in ammonia. They took beef trimmings, nearly all fat, heated them to render out the fat, then rinsed it in ammonia to get rid of any lingering bacteria, and pressed it into blocks to be used by hamburger manufacturers.

  8. Crystal--
    Yeah, I found myself wondering if Kindt was conflating the two stories when he said that about the chicken slime...doesn't make it non-gross, though!

  9. I love being vegetarian, for no other reason than my food looks great. I don't have to cover it with sauce and try not to think about its origins as I swallow ;-)

  10. Thanks so much for posting this. It is amazing to see it before it is shaped to the final product.
    I have some great homemade chicken nugget recipes on:

    I love your blog!
    Dr. Kim Bruno
    The Baby Food Doctor

  11. I like Leah's comment - very fair thinking.


  13. In other countries, (where they are much healthier)they eat all the parts of the chicken.
    My husband is from a rural part of Mexico and lots of people eat the chickens feet. They also intestines and goat and sheep FACE. I think if he wanted to gross them out he should have showed them the chickens as they repeatedly fell over in their own defecation from disease, processed and then dipped in bleach. Then showed them a healthy chicken raised the way nature intended.

  14. The only thing about other countries eatiing the whole bird is there they clean the guts and organs properly before coking/eating them. US slaughter houses are terribly unsanitary and I find it hard to believe that if they cleaned the chickens before mechnically separating them that they used something other then a caustic chemical. For example in just about every batch of meat patties for almost every fast food chain you will find traces of excrement from the cows. This happens when a cow is slaughtered incorrectly, cut in the wrong place accidently, and its guts are opened and spilled tainting that cows meat as well as the cows around it in line.

    We avoid eating mass produced meat as much as possible in my household for many reasons such as this.

  15. As long as it doesn't kill me and it tastes alright, I don't really care what's in it (don't get me wrong, it's nice to know, but it just doesn't bother me that there are guts in there).

  16. Vegitarians, Vegans and Omnivores alike should ALL be thinking about the origins of thier food. Just because you are a Vegitarian doesn't give you free lisence to assume that your food is raised in a better environment or being regulated any better than an Omnivore. E.coli, Strep and Salmonella can all be found on Organically raised vegetation. The U.S. Government has not defined what "organic" materials can be used as crop bedding, fertilizer and pesticides. All they have to be is of organic origin. This leaves a wide swath for plants grown in bone meal, blood meal, treated with lye dust and fertilizers such as feces. Whoever you are be aware that what is on your plate may not be as "nice" as it appears. Unless you raise it yourself or have seen it being raised you can assume nothing.

  17. I'm sad that you struggle to believe that there are any true whole, fresh "cruelty free" meats available from local farmers. I may not be local for YOU, but I am local to others and it's important to know there are some good ones out there. We treat our chickens as pets until it's time for them to become dinner. Seriously, my kids play with them, train them, give them healthy treats, name them. They come running to us as soon as we step out of the house!

  18. Thank you for posting. I honestly had no idea how thy made them either. And now that I do, I won't eat them and I won't let my daughter eat them. I will also educate her so that she isn't brain washed by our society. Thank you again.

  19. Sick animals, sick people :(
    We live in a sick world...



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