UPDATE (March 23): More developments on this issue can be found here.
The idea of heated scraps from the butchering process, often treated with ammonia, being used as filler in ground beef understandably conjures up a negative response for most consumers. That the substance has been dubbed "pink slime" doesn't make it go down any better.
Recent awareness of the issue has led grocery stores to mark their turf as consumers increasingly are expressing their concern and displeasure over the use of the filler, which can't be easily detected. There is no labeling requirement that would show that nor is it visually obvious. However, organic ground beef, which is regulated, cannot contain the concoction.
Pink slime in ground beef isn't new (watch chef Jamie Oliver explain about it in this video last year), but a recent report by ABC News finally caught the public's attention and grocery stores are reacting.
Shaw's yesterday announced it was going slime-free. Oh yeah, it should be pointed out that the industry doesn't call it pink slime. They call it "finely textured beef."
"While itís important to remember there are no food safety concerns with products containing finely textured beef, this decision was made due to ongoing customer concerns over these products," Shaw's said in an emailed statement. "All current beef products in our stores meet strict safety and quality standards approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
Shaw's (part of the Supervalu chain) isn't the only grocer to take a position. Consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky, who runs ConsumerWorld.org, asked a dozen retailers who serve Massachusetts (many are national operations) where they stand on slime.
Foodmaster, Roche Bros., Whole Foods, and Costco said they do not use the filler in their ground beef products. Price Chopper said it does not use pink slime in its fresh ground beef, but has asked its suppliers whether they use it in the frozen products the chain carries, Dworsky said.
BJís Wholesale Club currently sells ground beef, fresh and frozen, made with the substance but will stop carrying slime-laced fresh ground beef on April 7 and frozen on April 20. Hannaford said it, too, will abandon use of the filler.
At least three regional chains that serve the area acknowledge they do use the filler. "Stop & Shop, Market Basket, and Wegmans say that except for some varieties mostly of the organic type, much of their ground beef contains pink slime, but that their processing plants use a safer antibacterial agent on the meat scraps," Dworsky said.
Big Y did not immediately respond to the survey, Dworsky said.
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Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com