By now the ground beef filler product known as “pink slime” has become the newest cause for activists to rally around, particularly in reference to the controversial deal its parent company, Beef Products Inc. made with the US Department of Agriculture in regards to school lunch. However, despite all the attention pink slime has received from the media in recent weeks, very few facts about the actual content of these lean beef trimmings are known.
“lean finely textured beef” is a low-cost ingredient that is made from fatty bits of meat that are left over from the more choice cuts. These bits of meat are heated and spun to remove the excess fat, then compressed into blocks to be used in ground meat. Somewhere during this process the trimmings are given a ‘puff’ of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill harmful pathogens such as E. Coli and salmonella. While official numbers are still not available, it is believed to be in about half of all ground beef meat and burgers in the United States.
The term ‘pink slime’ was originally coined in 2009 by a federal microbiologist in a New York Times report. Since then some celebrities have rallied against it, and it broke headlines when McDonald’s and other fast food chains were pressured to remove the trimmings from their products. Most recently pink slime has been brought up due to the fact that school lunches will serve meat with lean beef trimmings mixed in.
A compromise was reached this week, and on Thursday the USDA will make an official announcement about how it will proceed with lean beef trimmings and school lunches. Unofficially, they are expected to offer schools a choice in the ground beef they purchase, ranging from 95% lean beef patties containing the product, or less lean bulk ground beef without it.
Despite the compromise, lean beef trimmings continue to be a national target throughout blogs, social media and in petitions. A recent petition requesting pink slime to be removed from school lunches garnered over 200,000 signatures. Food policy expert Marion Nestle noted that the unappetizing nickname may have made it easier for the food movement to attack lean beef trimmings. “A lot of people have been writing about it. Therefore, more people know about it, therefore more people are queasy about it, particularly when you start thinking about how this stuff turns up in school lunches.”
The truth of the matter is, this product has been on the market for years, and federal regulators believe that it meets food safety standards. Due to recent pressure the USDA has opted to give schools a choice in meat, in order to be transparent in its processes; however they fully believe that the ammonia treatment is safe.
Beef Products Inc. has begun to fight back, defending its product by saying that it’s 100 percent lean beef, and has been approved by numerous experts in the field. The company even launched a new website, pinkslimeisamyth.com, aiming to correct some common misconceptions about the product. The National Meat Association has also gotten involved, denying that the scraps of meat are ‘inedible’ and bringing to light that ammonium hydroxide is used in numerous other products including baked goods, puddings and other processed foods.
NMA CEO, Barry Carpenter, claims that the safety of the product isn’t the issue, only the public perception to it. Various campaigns also highlight that lean beef trimmings help to keep meat prices down, and contribute to a more sustainable world by making use of meat that would be tossed away.
While the product may be entirely safe for consumption, the cause for concern is mostly over the industrialized process involved in obtaining it, and the fact that the true source of this product has been kept in the dark for so many years. As many concerned parents have noted, if lean beef trimmings aren’t good enough for fast food restaurants to serve, then why should they be a staple in school lunches?
DailyFoodtoEat is the official blog of FoodtoEat, a sustainable online food ordering and concierge catering service featuring your favorite restaurants, food trucks and caterers. Check out the deliciousness here: www.foodtoeat.com