Filthy Fake Food

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but during my time as a freelance Rogue Scientist I did a lot of commercial work for food companies. One, a small but growing concern at the time, had a preparation consisting of several (can’t tell you, I signed a thing) components that they wanted to add to a range of foods to see if they were beneficial. One of the components was a live bacterial probiotic. Perfectly safe, I’d worked with the same species they were using for many years.

One of the foods they wanted me to test was vegetarian sausages. I immediately pointed out that their probiotic will be killed by cooking because sausages need to be cooked right through.

“Oh but there’s no meat in it. It’s vegetarian.” It’s probably a good thing they asked me and not some shyster who’d have taken the money knowing that one part of the testing is not going to work.

You see, it doesn’t matter what sausages are made of, what matters is how they are made. The raw ingredients are mixed throughout so if there is any possibility of any contamination, it will be throughout the mix, not just on the surface. You have to cook it all the way through, and that will kill the probiotic, often faster than some of the potential pathogens. You cannot take a chance on telling people it needs just a light grilling because one day, a contaminated batch might slip through. If it does, your business is finished.

I did run tests on some of the other foods they wanted to add it to, the ones that didn’t need to be cooked, and the results were pretty good. Those preparations would still need testing for microbiological safety, but then everything does these days and at least their probiotic component wouldn’t be wiped out. Except in olive oil. Nothing grows in that stuff, and even bacteria deliberately added will soon disappear. I use it all the time now.

Unfortunately, the Thing I signed does not allow me to reveal any of the components of this stuff (it’s not the same as the stuff I’ve talked about before, it’s much more complex), I won’t even say the genus of the bacterial probiotics (although anyone who’s done any work in this area can narrow it down pretty fast). I can’t tell you who I did the work for or the name of the product. Those company lawyers really know how to shoot free advertising in the foot.

I have never had a problem with the existence of vegetarian sausages. Berating them is the same as saying ‘should lesbians be allowed dildos?’ or the PhD I once met who told me that vaping should be banned because it ‘looks like smoking’. We had just left a place where a vegetarian was eating sausages that ‘look like meat’ but as I was getting a lift home and it was a long walk otherwise, I declined to pursue the argument.

There is a ‘vegetarian bacon’ that almost, but not quite, looks like cheap streaky bacon. It’s been around for quite some time. I have no idea what it’s made of nor what it tastes like, I’ve never tried it. Never will. It doesn’t interest me. That does not mean I am ‘against’ it, it just means I won’t buy any. I’m quite happy with the real thing. But… if you’re vegetarian, why do you want something, anything, that looks like (and might even taste like) meat? I’m genuinely curious.

And so we come to the world of fake meat. There is a lot of it. You might argue that the mushed insect burgers are actually meat, since the insides of insects could be classed as a kind of meat. I’m not eating it. I don’t fancy picking cricket legs out of my teeth. Chitin, the outer hard shell of insects, is not digestible by humans and not even by insect-eating birds. They just crap that stuff out. It’s broken down by bacteria and fungi in the environment at a rate only a little faster than many plastics and if all humanity is shitting that stuff out we will very soon have a brand new form of pollution. But hey, that’s ‘Green’.

Then we have 3D-printed meatless meat, which is a very expensive way to avoid killing a cow. Except it doesn’t avoid that, because they want to kill all the cows so you have to buy the pretend meat. In my world, cows become food (and jackets and sofas) and their species continues. In their world, cows die for nothing, become extinct and they can’t 3D-print your jackets and sofas. Give it a little thought before you decide which world is better.

It is indeed a very strange and sickly shade of Green that has decided animals are bad for the environment. I really don’t expect their blue-haired idiot zealots to ever grasp that.

Finally we come full circle, to Beyond Meat who are producing fake meat from plants like it’s some kind of new idea. It’s been going on for decades and it’s never been a big thing because it’s a niche market. Always has been and always will be. Trying to make it mainstream was always going to fail, the existing niche suppliers could have told them that. Some things can only work as a small scale operation.

Look, I have no issue with wannabe vegans who want to eat meat-flavoured or meat-looking things. I do not care about companies producing fake meat for fake vegans. It’s their issue, not mine. It’s human nature – if there is a demand for it, someone will produce it. That does not mean the rest of us are forced to buy it. I won’t buy it but I don’t want to ban it. It is simply of no interest to me.

What does interest me is the discovery of Listeria and moulds in Beyond Meat fake meat products. Just like those probiotics in vegetarian sausages I spoke of earlier – just because a product has no meat, it does not automatically mean the product is safe.

In terms of bacteriological safety, meat is by far the safest option of all the options discussed here. When you get a steak, as long as the animal had no infection, the only contamination will be on the surface. A quick sear in a pan and it’s clean. No need to cook it right through.

Poultry is an exception – Campylobacter gets into the bird’s muscles so you do need to cook it right through. Salmonella can be all over the surface of the chicken but it won’t be deep in the meat. Campylobacter, like Salmonella, is killed by cooking but it’s in the meat, so make sure there are no rare chicken bits around. It has so far proved impossible to eradicate Campylobacter from poultry, so always cook it all the way.

Still (apart from poultry) there are no microbial contaminants inside the meat from a healthy animal. The only possible contamination would be on the outside.

Listeria is not part of the natural microflora of animals. It’s a soil bacterium and is an external contaminant. It’s not a good one to catch but it’s pretty easy to avoid. Sure, it’ll be on vegetables including salads – cooking kills it, washing salads will get most of it off and there won’t be enough left to cause any infections. Again, it’s only on the surface.

So why is it such a problem for plant based meats? Well, they do use a lot of plants and since Listeria grows at soil temperature, a contamination with it will be able to multiply in scraps of waste left around. It could reach risky levels – and if it does get into the mixture it’ll be all the way through, not just on the surface.

The same is true of any other contamination that gets into the mix. Not just on the surface but all the way through the finished product. Finding moulds and Listeria in a factory producing any kind of minced or mixed foods is a very bad thing.

So what about 3D printed meat, or insect derived meat? Same thing applies. 3D printing puts down layers, the risk of something landing between the layers can be minimised of course, but it’s there. And crushing, mixing and compressing insects is just as much of a risk as making a burger from mince – with the added caveat that the meat used to make the burger didn’t have the guts still in it. Really, nobody is going to sit at a table and gut ten thousand cockroaches. They go into the blender whole.

The potential for a really bad contamination with meats is low, other than poutry and any kind of minced meat. Putting it through a mincer will mix any surface contamination throughout the meat. However, these are known risks and easiy dealt with. Make sure the risky stuff is well cooked right through.

As the opening paragraphs pointed out, (remember those? It was quite a while ago) some of those involved in making vegetarian foods consider them to be a far lower risk than eating meat. In fact they can be a very much higher risk of contamination and unlike meat, the contaminants that can arise from very highly processed plant or insect material aren’t well known yet. We haven’t processed them to this extent before. We don’t really know what to look for and the food safety tests applied to meat-based foods are very probably looking for the wrong things.

These days, things get rushed to market without going through rigorous testing. Oh, they’ll claim they were rigorously tested and they probably believe they’ve covered all the angles but in reality, nobody knows what the angles actually are. These fake meats are unknown territory and if they do cause some new infections to arise, we’re going to have to find out the hard way.

Well I say ‘we’ but I mean ‘you’ of course. I’ll be over here taking notes and eating pieces of some unfortunate animal.

An animal I don’t want eradicated from the face of the earth.

27 thoughts on “Filthy Fake Food

  1. I’ve been a veggie for 50 years.
    But I’m not evangelical about it. It’s just me, I’m odd.
    Saying, “I’m a veggie” is easier than saying, “I don’t like meat.”

    But if they ever try to ban it, I’ll be on the barricades with you carnivores.
    I like sharing the countryside with farm animals, even if I’m not pulling my weight in supporting them.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Well, those animals produce the fertiliser for crops, so actually you are pulling your weight to support them by increasing demand for the crops they fertilise 😉

      If they all vanish, there’ll only be chemical fertlisers available (at increased cost once the natural option is gone) which isn’t good for anyone.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. I like vegetarians, they are a sustainable resource that’s low enough in the food chain to not accumulate harmful levels of heavy metals or toxins, easy to harvest, and usually compliant if kept well fed with bullshit. A little low on muscle mass to produce good red meat, but that’s what makes them easy to harvest.

    Liked by 4 people

        • I’ve covered this before. A lot of land has too poor soil cover to grow anything more than grass. The Brecon and Pennines areas in the UK are like that.

          You can rear sheep there but you can’t grow any crop worth eating.

          Oh, and they’ll have to eradicate a lot of wildlife, like rabbits, too.

          Because Green.

          Liked by 3 people

          • I like a nice Wild Rabbit. When I can get one. The taste is entirely different. But they aren’t into sharing around here. Their freezers must be jammed packed and there isn’t much road kill either. Somebody else must be getting that.
            Many is the laugh I had when driving my children back and forth to boarding school. At least, I thought it was funny. Not sure about the children. “Hit it” I used to say as it lay there dying. I wonder sometimes if the children ever recovered. I got to skin it and gut it and that was the hard bit. If they did but know.

            Liked by 1 person

              • Here in Scotland, if you hit a rabbit or a deer (they are everywhere and are completely devoid of road sense) you can’t take it. It counts as ‘hunting without a licence’ or something. However, if you come across one someone else has hit and killed, it’s all yours.
                So far all I’ve seen as roadkill are badgers and foxes. They don’t appeal to me… but if times do get really tough, I’d consider it.

                Liked by 2 people

          • I live in the Northants side of the Welland Valley and many fields around my village are suitable only for cattle or sheep because either there is very thin soil over limestone – which often protrudes – or the slopes are too steep for tractors, so it’s not just hilly areas.

            Liked by 3 people

  3. In the past I’ve had to point out to a (poorly) trained chef that chicken must be heated right through before finishing on the BBQ. The twit refused to believe/understand this, so we left them to their poisonous outdoor meal. There were the expected reports later of illness…

    Liked by 3 people

    • I always eat meat half cooked. Including Chicken. I don’t see the point otherwise. I have never been ill from this penchant so I can only presume that my gut is something else. Possibly something to do with long term abuse of The Rules.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d say you’ve been very lucky – the centre of a chicken piece must be heated to kill bugs, to approx 70C.
        Any chicken, fresh from the butcher, supermarket wrapped, organic, may all suffer from microbes throughout their bulk.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I have wondered ,if the greenies got their way and all cows and sheep were eliminated,would they then demand that the wandering herds of Wildebeest etc in Africa be got rid of too?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Over here in Canada, Byram Bridle has been talking about their plans to vaccinate (with mRNA vaccines, of course) all the animals we normally eat. And the problem of oral tolerance in us should we eat them. His substack is called Covid Chronicles, might want to give it a read. I doubt this is going to be a Canada only thing.
    Next on the menu – soylent green?

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s certainly happening in Australia and there are reports of mass cattle deaths after ‘vaccination’ in India. I expect it’s either started or planned pretty much everywhere.


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