|Photo by ilovebutter|
“Pink slime” has been making headlines in the past couple of weeks. What is it, why should you care, and what can you do about it?
What Is Pink Slime?
Pink slime, technically called “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB) is a meat processing byproduct used as a cheap filler in ground beef. After all the cuts of meat have been butchered, what’s left behind are meat scraps: connective tissues and meat and fat trimmings. These meat scraps would typically get used in animal feed (e.g. dog food) and for fat rendering. But a company called Beef Products Inc. (BPI) found a way to turn these scraps into profit. The meat scraps are simmered at low heat and then spun in a centrifuge to separate out the fat. The resulting mixture is then treated with ammonia hydroxide to to kill pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. It is then packaged into bricks which are frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers. The pink slime is then added as filler into ground beef.
Jamie Oliver, who has taken a stand against pink slime, demonstrates how pink slime is made in this video:
Are You Eating Pink Slime?
If you live in the US, chances are that you’re eating pink slime. That’s because it’s found in 70% of US ground beef. According to BPI’s website:
BPI lean beef is a key ingredient in more than 20 billion meals served every year and is found in hundreds of consumer and food industry products, including:
- Fresh retail ground beef
- Fresh and frozen hamburger patties
- Low-fat hot dogs
- Taco meats
- Lunch meats
- Beef sticks/snacks
- Sausages, pepperoni, and other encased meats
- Retail frozen entrees
- Meat balls
- Roast beef
- Canned foods
Meat can contain up to 15% pink slime. Pink slime and ammonia do not have to appear on the label, since pink slime is considered meat, and the ammonia constitutes a processing agent and not an ingredient.
McDonald’s and other fast food chains like Burger King and Taco Bell have stopped using it. But it’s still commonly used in school cafeterias – the USDA plans to buy 7 million pounds of it in the coming months for the national school lunch program.
For Canadians, it’s unclear whether or not pink slime has oozed its way into Canadian meat products. According to Heather Travis, the director of public relations for Canadian Beef, pink slime and ammonium hydroxide are not used in Canadian ground beef. However, BPI’s company profile lists Canada as a customer (along with Mexico and Japan).
Why You Should Care
Pathogens: First of all, meat scraps are especially susceptible to pathogens. According to a 2003 study by BPI, the trimmings “typically includes most of the material from the outer surfaces of the carcass” and contains “larger microbiological populations.” The ammonia is supposed to kill these off. However,
“government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment.”
Ammonia: When pink slime first infiltrated ground beef, there were complaints about the strong smell of ammonia coming from the meat, even while the meat was frozen. BPI’s response was that the ammonia would be diluted when mixed with other ground beef – nice. BPI then reduced the amount of ammonia, which resulted in more contaminated meat – d’oh! It has since tweaked the amount again. The FDA says it’s safe (Oh, good. I feel so much better . . . ).
It’s not really meat: Carl Custer, a 35-year veteran of the Food Safety Inspection Service explains:
“We originally called it soylent pink,” Custer told The Daily. “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.”
Fraud: You’re paying full price for ground beef, but only getting 85% meat. Pink slime is cheap filler, but are you saving money? No. You’re overpaying. Even more so if you consider the above detriments of the product you’re buying.
How to Avoid Pink Slime
- Grind the meat yourself
- Have the butcher grind a roast for you
- Buy organic: “If your meat is stamped USDA Organic, it’s pure meat with no filler.”
- If you opt for conventional, the occurrence of pink slime may be reduced if it’s labeled as being from a specific cut (e.g. 100% ground sirloin or chuck)
- These stores don’t sell pink slime: Publix, Costco, HEB, and Whole Foods; Kroger offers slime-free options
Also, if you live in the USA, make sure to sign the petition telling the USDA to stop using pink slime in school food.
What are you doing to avoid pink slime?