Defects and lumps in meat

Although they're unsightly, lumps and other defects in meat don't always mean there's a safety risk.


Causes of lumps and defects in meat

Lumps and other changes in meat texture are generally safe to eat. They can be a natural part of the animal, like lymph nodes, or may have been caused when the animal healed from an injury such as:

  • deep muscle injections
  • ingrown foreign objects (like prickles)
  • small bacterial infections
  • parasites that lodge in muscles.

An animal's body will naturally surround these sorts of objects with white fluids to form an abscess, or enclose them with a hard material like calcium. It changes the way the meat feels but doesn't make it unsafe.

Harmless lumps in sheep meat

Lumps in sheep meat are commonly caused by a parasite known as sheep measles (Taenia ovis). The parasite burrows into muscle and goes into a resting stage, or cyst (Cysticercus ovis). Cysts appear as hard, white lumps about the size of wheat grains. The sheep's immune system coats the cyst in calcium and tries to destroy it. Although unsightly and unpleasant to find in sheep meat, the cysts are harmless to people.

Lymph nodes are safe

Lymph nodes are a natural part of the animal and are not considered a defect. They show up as a grey or light-brown, marble-sized lump of tissue in the fatty areas between muscles, or beside them.

Lumps and defects are rare

It's not common to find lumps or defects in meat. By law, trained inspectors check products before they're sold. They'll often take out harmless lumps and defects. If they find anything dangerous, they can reject that meat or the whole carcase.

Who to contact

If you have questions about food safety, email info@mpi.govt.nz.

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