“And You Thought It Was Just ‘Pink’ Slime” – ProPublica report

“Lean finely textured beef,” aka “pink slime,” sparked an uproar when the USDA bought 7 million pounds of the stuff for school lunches. The agency maintains it’s safe and healthy; critics say it’s not fit to eat. But the burger filler isn’t new, nor is it the only way that meat packers maximize production. Here’s how it stacks up against two other mechanical processes.

Lean Finely Textured Beef –  What does it look like?

What else is it called? “Pink slime,” coined by former USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein in 2002.

What is it? Processed beef trimmings and recovered materials from meat carcasses, like fat and connective tissue.

How is it made? Trimmings are heated to 100°F and spun inside a centrifuge to separate the meat from the fat. After the fat is removed, the remaining beef bits are treated with ammonia hydroxide to kill bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella. They are then ground up, frozen into blocks and added to other beef products.

How is it labeled? Some companies may soon include “lean finely textured beef” on their product labels, and Congress recently introduced a bill to require labeling. Right now the USDA does not require any disclosure, because the product is considered the same as beef.

Health concerns? Trimmings are typically collected from more bacteria-prone parts of the cow, but treatment with ammonia is supposed to kill pathogens. In 2009 some beef products have tested positive for E. coli and salmonella, but the USDA says it has modified inspection processes since then to address safety concerns. The USDA continues to “affirm the safety of Lean Finely Textured Beef product for all consumers.”

Read the rest of the ProPublica report and learn about “mechanically separated meat” and “advanced meat recovery” here.

One comment

  1. What we have all been exposed to with this “pink slime” coverage is a classic example of media sensationalism aimed at ratings and not based on facts. Now some clear facts here. The only differences between the trimmings used to make ground beef, as the consumer recognizes it, and the trimmings used to make LFTB is the lean beef to fat ratio. LFTB starts by using higher fat trimmings. To achieve the higher lean ground beef that we all desire economically, the lean is separated from the fat and the lean is added back into the ground beef. Nutritionally equal or even improved due to higher lean content. On to the subject of ammonia hydroxide. The association of ammonia used as a cleaning agent is very misleading. After the lean beef is separated from the high fat trimmings. Food grade ammonia gas, which is naturally occurring in many foods including beef, is used to slightly elevate the ph of the product. Elevating the ph of the beef creates an environment that is unfriendly to bacteria. So the intent here is truly food safety. Next, I have seen a lot of back and forth about labeling. This is a tough one. There are some questions that have been posed many times. Do you label it ground beef with lean beef added? Or, do you put on the label ammonia used to elevate the level of already existing ammonia? Contrary to what many might believe, this debate has been going on throughout for quite some time. The next thing we should be asking ourselves is, who’s going to suffer? Well, simple economics will tell us we, as consumers, will pay more at the meat counter due to the lose of quality lean beef in the market place. I would encourage that we all do some research for ourselves and not buy into the media hype. A well informed consumer now has the tools to, and will, make good choices.

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