The truth about slimeLean, finely-textured beef sounds rather light and healthy – something you’d find at a trendy luncheonette. Pink slime sounds less palatable. The two are exactly the same thing. In March, ABC News ran a series exposing an additive in ground beef that has been used since 2001. That series caused consumer panic nationwide. What do you mean there’s ammonia in our beef? What is pink slime? Is it in our grocery stores – in our beef?
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Lean, finely-textured beef sounds rather light and healthy – something you’d find at a trendy luncheonette. Pink slime sounds less palatable. The two are exactly the same thing.
In March, ABC News ran a series exposing an additive in ground beef that has been used since 2001. That series caused consumer panic nationwide.
What do you mean there’s ammonia in our beef? What is pink slime? Is it in our grocery stores – in our beef?
“We don’t have any of it here,” said Kevin Meyer, meat department manager at Pete’s County Market in Alexandria.
The ground beef at Pete’s comes from whole muscle meat mis-cuts, the parts that can’t be sold on their own as steaks or roasts.
“If it doesn’t look good to me, and I wouldn’t buy it – it doesn’t get in the package,” said Assistant Meat Manager Steve Takle. The ground beef at Pete’s is ground and packaged in the store.
Pete’s County Market Store Manager Bob Ahlgren said some stores use an 11 percent phosphate solution to preserve color and shelf life of their beef. Pete’s guarantees a fresh product – beef only stays on the shelf for three days.
“No additives, no preservatives, no pink slime,” Ahlgren said.
WHAT IS PINK SLIME?
Lean, finely-textured beef (LFTB), boneless, lean beef trimmings (BLBT) and finely textured beef (FTB) are United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved finely ground beef scraps, sinew, fat and connective tissue – all beef.
The controversy began with how the meat is processed.
Meyer said a machine bones some of the meat instead of a person. Mechanical processing equipment can separate fat from meat in certain trimmings more efficiently than human hands.
The beef pieces are then heated to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and spun in a centrifuge to separate the meat from the fat. To kill bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, it is treated with either citric acid or a food-grade ammonium hydroxide gas. During the process, the meat mass is converted into a protein paste and liquid fat.
The treated product is frozen and compressed into bricks ready to be used as an additive to ground beef.
Use of ammonia has generated concern among consumers – but it is not the same ammonia used in household cleaners. Ammonium hydroxide is also used in other foods like gelatin, pudding and cheese and can occur naturally in foods.
Pete’s County Market used to carry some pre-packaged ground beef that contained LFTB but its provider, Supervalu, stopped carrying the product in response to the media hype surrounding the additive.
Pre-packaged ground beef in the tube at Pete’s does not contain additives, Meyer said. The switch increased the cost by 12 to 15 cents a pound.
THEN AND NOW
In 1994, E. coli in beef was a public health concern so a pH enhancement system was created to disinfect the meat. Before the disinfection process was established, the beef pieces used in LFTB could only be used in pet food. The USDA approved LFTB for human consumption in 2001.
The term “pink slime” was first used in 2002 by a former USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service microbiologist who was against using the additive.
The USDA found the process to be so effective that in 2007, beef processed under the pH enhancement system became exempt from routine testing.
Currently, ground beef can contain up to 15 percent LFTB and the label can say “100 percent ground beef.” Beef, from a distributor, without the additive has a “USDA Organic” label adhered to the packaging.
At the time of ABC’s report, potentially 70 percent of ground beef sold in the United States contained the additive. Because of consumer outrage, many grocers and restaurants have refused to carry products that contain LFTB.
McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have announced discontinuation of Beef Products Inc. (BPI) products in their food. BPI and Cargill Meat Solutions are leading distributors of beef that use the manufacturing process. BPI uses ammonia-based disinfection and Cargill uses a citric acid process.
Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union have all imposed restrictions or bans on ground beef containing the additive.
Part of the public outrage stems from the location on the cow where the beef pieces are harvested – the hind quarters – which are more susceptible to fecal matter exposure. However, no cases of foodborne illnesses have been reported as a result of consuming beef containing LFTB.
IN OUR SCHOOLS
This fall, school districts will be given the opportunity to decide if they individually would like to purchase ground beef containing the additive or not. Opting to not continue using the product could result in higher costs for the schools.
Independent School District (ISD) 206 does not use LFTB, said Barb Larson, director of food and nutrition services. Larson said the product ISD 206 has ordered for the coming school year does not contain LFTB because that is what parents want, but it’s going to cost more. “Although we don’t use [LFTB],” Larson said. “It’s not as bad of a product as people think.”
An Associated Press taste test compared burgers with and without the LFTB. Participants reported the LFTB burgers smelled the same but had less juice and more cartilage-like matter.