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Two Things You’d Rather Not Know About Chicken Nuggets

A pile of chicken nuggetsThere’s no doubt that the chicken nugget is a mainstay of the American diet, even if we do jokingly ask, “Where's the nugget on a chicken?” 

Robert Baker, a food science professor at Cornell University, invented the chicken nugget in the 1950s. Since then, a lot of research has been dedicated to the oddly shaped finger food.

For example, a recent study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology found that processed meats are up to 30 percent fat, and that the 5 percent fat content in chicken nuggets made them preferable to nuggets containing no fat.

But new research indicated that the fat content in fast food nuggets is much higher than 5 percent.

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‘The Autopsy of a Chicken Nugget’

If you ask the National Chicken Council what’s in a chicken nugget, they’ll obviously say chicken and note that “most” chicken nuggets start as chicken breasts. McDonald’s, meanwhile, assures its customers that: “The only meat used in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets is chicken breast meat.”

Researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, however, believe that the “chicken” in “chicken nugget” is false advertising.

They found that the part of the chicken you think you’re getting—striated muscle—is not the predominant ingredient in nuggets. Fat, bone, nerve, connective tissue, and epithelium were present in equal or greater quantities than chicken meat.

It’s similar to what’s known in the food industry as “meat slurry,” or the emulsified chicken meat designed for chicken nuggets, dog food, and other uses.

“Chicken nuggets are mostly fat, and their name is a misnomer,” the authors wrote in a study published this week in the American Journal of Medicine.

The researchers chose to examine nuggets because of how pervasive they are in the American diet, especially for children.

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Chinese Chicken, Coming To a Nugget Near You

In August, Congress lifted a ban on Chinese chicken imports that began during the Bush administration. This allowed for limited numbers of American chickens to be processed in China.

Before getting to your table, a chicken would be killed in the U.S. or Canada, shipped off to China for processing, and then shipped back the U.S. to be served up in various forms. 

The problem, critics say, lies in sub-par Chinese food safety standards. The assistant to the director of the China's National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment said that because China was “still developing” it would not be adopting international food safety standards, but rather rely on “national conditions,” according to the South China Morning Post.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report earlier this year linking the deaths of more than 500 dogs and the sickening of up to 2,500 animals to contaminated chicken found in dog treats processed in China. 

Under the new trade agreement, no inspector from the FDA will be present at the Chinese processing facilities. Because the chicken will only be processed in China, it won’t require any point-of-origin label, and consumers won’t be able to tell where their chicken has been.

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