Many people may be breathing a giant sigh of relief after hearing that Beef Products Inc., the manufacturer of “pink slime” used in some ground beef products, has decided to drastically cut back on its production due to falling sales. Panic over pink slime was triggered by this youtube video by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, which went viral in recent months. In it, Oliver grabs a hunk of beef fat and throws it into a washing machine just before he mixes it with household ammonia.
“You’ve just turned dog food into potentially your kids’ food,” Oliver said to a gasping audience on his show televised last year on ABC.
The show launched a social media campaign against pink slime—or lean finely textured beef product, which is how the US Department of Agriculture refers to it, and it may ultimately force the product from the market. The USDA continues to affirm the safety of the product but also announced two weeks ago that school districts would be able to opt out of buying school lunches that contained it.
Lean finely textured beef isn’t required to appear on food labels, so consumers don’t have any idea whether they’re purchasing it.
While no doubt, the beef product—which is made from discarded fat and connective tissue trimmings—is cheap to produce and makes those burgers less costly, there’s no evidence it makes beef less safe, or even less nutritious.
It’s produced in a centrifuge to separate the protein component in the beef from fats and oils and then sterilized with ammonium hydroxide to kill off dangerous bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella. The result: a product containing 94 percent lean beef, about what you’d find in extra lean ground beef that doesn’t contain pink slime.
The beef product or slime (whichever term you prefer) then gets blended into ground beef, hot dogs, or other processed meat products.
As for that dangerous sounding ammonia, it’s not of the household cleaning product strength but rather a much more diluted form of ammonium hydroxide that’s found on the US Food and Drug Administration’s list of food additives generally recognized as safe.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid ammonia additives in food products: In fact, most cheeses contain more ammonium hydroxide than pink slime-filled beef. Chocolate, caramel, and puddings also may contain it, and other forms of ammonia are used in condiments, relishes, soy protein concentrates/isolates, snack foods, and jams.
Given all that, I’m still wondering, why all the hoopla over pink slime? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.Deborah Kotz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.