McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have all stopped using Lean Beef Trimming, the quasi-foodstuff known colloquially as ‘pink slime’. While these outlets are not exactly known as culinary luminaries, this was a common-sense measure that could be applauded. However, the USDA is planning to buy 7 million pounds of this tasty stuff for use in the national school lunch program.
Made by grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food and rendering, BPI’s Lean Beef Trimmings are then treated with ammonia hydroxide, a process that kills pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.
The resulting pinkish substance is later blended into traditional ground beef and hamburger patties.
Microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein coined the term ‘pink slime’ in 2002 and a decade later is still adamant that the product isn’t really meat. Now a father himself, he’s keen to make sure his two year old son doesn’t have to eat pink slime when he starts attending school.
Carl Custer, also a microbiologist with 35 years experience at the Food Safety Inspection Service, agrees with Zirnstein that pink slime isn’t meat and that the connective tissue used is not nutritionally equivalent to muscle. Together they classified the trimmings as a ‘high risk product’ but their findings were ignored — and continue to be ignored. The USDA has recently declared that all their ground beef purchases ‘meet the highest standard for food safety’.
“The word in the office was that undersecretary JoAnn Smith pushed it through, and that was that,” Custer said.
Appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, Smith had deep ties with the beef industry, serving as president of both the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the of the National Cattlemen’s Association.
“Scientists in D.C. were pressured to approve this stuff with minimal safety approval,” Zirnstein said.
The problem is made worse by current labeling laws that consider it to be a raw material that doesn’t need to be uniquely labeled. In other words, a company can sell you a ground beef product that can have up to 15% pink slime in it and neither have to acknowledge the fact nor mention that an ammonia additive was used during production.
The USDA has stated that pink slime makes up 6.5% of its ground beef purchases for the school lunch program, which is high enough to mean that your child is probably going to consume it.
ABC News reported that the pink slime is even more ubiquitous than we think. 70 percent of supermarket ground beef contains the gelatinous additive, even though no mention of this filler is required on the label.
Correction: This article originally featured a photo purported to be ‘pink slime’/lean beef trimmings, but was actually similarly-processed chicken. The photo has been corrected to feature lean beef trimmings.