Pink slime is a meat-like substance composed of connective tissue and beef scraps mechanically removed from the bone, and normally meant for dog food. Pink slime made news earlier this year when fast food restaurants like McDonald’s rejected the substance after mounting pressure and poor publicity for the processed substance. Pink slime is making a dramatic comeback however, in school lunch.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is purchasing 7 million pounds of pink slime to be served in school lunch. Pink slime has been known to be used in processed chicken nuggets, as well as hamburger patties. The product is officially termed “Lean Beef Trimming”, and is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens. Microbiologist at the Food Safety Inspection Service, Carl Custer, said “we looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent to ground beef. My main objection was that it was not meat.”
Although these trimmings have been identified as a high risk product, pressure from President George H. W. Bush’s administration forced scientists in D.C. to approve the substance with minimal safety approval, according to microbiologist Gerald Zernstein. One of the main concerns with the ammonium hydroxide treatment is that it can be harmful to eat and can potentially turn into ammonium nitrate, a compound used to make bombs. However the USDA stands by its initial assessment that all of its ground beef purchases meet the highest standard for food safety.
In 2009, The New York Times tested lean beef trimming in schools across the country and found that E. coli and salmonella still persisted in some batches of meat, despite the added ammonia. In particular, two contaminated batches of 27,000 pounds of meat were uncovered.
School lunch has recently undergone several changes and compromises in their standards and guidelines. Newer standards call for more whole grains and produce, and less sodium and fat in lunches. This step was still compromised as pizza and French fries remained on lunch menus, with tomato paste and potatoes from each dish counting as vegetables. While the long term effects of these changes will take time to decipher, a recent report revealed that over one third of high school students eat vegetables less than once a day, far below the recommended level of intake for a healthy lifestyle.
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