What is Pink Slime?

Pink slime is essentially a ground beef filler, which is found in roughly 70% of the ground beef, hamburger, and sausage we buy and consume. The company that makes it, (Beef Products Inc.) says it isn't filler but that it is simply boneless lean beef (not sure why they need to clarify the boneless part). This doesn't sound so bad does it? I mean, we eat hot dogsand chicken nuggets, all the while trying not to think too hard about what is in them.

What's all the Fuss About?

The fuss seems to be largely two fold
1. People find the process of making "boneless lean beef" questionable. A process I will detail shortly.
2. Ground beef is not currently labeled in such a way that would allow people the option of not eating it.

Making Slime

When a cow is butchered the good quality meat is separated from fat, tissue, bones, and other less desirable meats. These scraps are then processed to separate any remaining edible meat from the inedible fats and tissues. The process involves heating the scraps to enable easier separation of the fat, then the scraps are put into a centrifuge where the liquid fat is spun off and the meat remains. The meat is then sent through a sprayer where it is sprayed with ammonium hydroxide gas. It is then frozen and shipped.

What's the Beef?

The main problem people have with the process is the introduction of the ammonium hydroxide. The household cleaner we all know as ammonium is in fact a diluted form of ammonium hydroxide. It certainly doesn't seem like something I want to eat but the FDA has classified this chemical as GRAS or generally regarded as safe. The real question is why is it needed? The rest of our ground beef doesn't get spritzed with household cleaner.

The beef generated by this separation method has a couple of issues. The meat that results from this processing is more susceptible to e coli and other pathogens because of the heat introduced in the processing and because the meat that hits the cutting room floor is often the less desirable pieces (think dog food). They have the highest concentrations of pathogens. This is where the ammonium comes into play. In order to raise the PH of the meat product and kill the pathogens they spray it with the ammonium gas. The gas mixes with the water in the meat and raises the meats PH.

So Don't Eat it

The logical solution to this is simply don't eat it if you don't want to, let the laws of supply and demand deal with the issue. The problem with this, however, is that there is no way to know what this meat has been added to because meat processed with ammonium doesn't need to be labeled. That's right, the addition of ammonium is considered part of the process, and because the ammonium is not considered an ingredient or an additive it doesn't have to be included in a food label. So, if you love hamburgers and don't want to eat this product you can grind your own beef, have it specially ground, grill your local supermarket to find out where they get their ground beef, or stop eating it altogether, and you had better start packing a lunch for your kids because that mystery meat in the cafeteria just got a lot less mysterious.

The Tidal Wave

In the early 2000's this information about ammonium meat hit the scene when a whistle blower from Beef Products Inc came forward about what he discovered while working there. There is by the way a very interesting video of him talking about his experience at BPI and as a whistle blower. So why is this reaching such a fever pitch years later? When I say fever pitch I am not exaggerating, restaurants and now grocery stores are falling all over themselves to get this stuff off the shelves. Just today Safeway, SUPERVALU, and Food Lion announced it will no longer sell "lean finely textured beef" aka pink slime. Over the past year or so fast food restaurants like Taco Bell and McDonald's have stopped serving this product and I think parents who were blissfully unaware of what was in their kids school cafeteria are now outraged that their kids are eating products deemed unsuitable for low end fast food chains.

Getting Back to Reality

This article was going to be a rant about Pink Slime, but the more I read about it the more I realized that pink slime not the real issue, this is just the first in a long line of questions we must start asking ourselves about the food we eat. The reality is that our food system is not transparent, our system of labeling foods hides more than it reveals, and the realities of our meat industry should make us ashamed. This is why I am making the choice to avoid not only pink slime but most other forms of meat.

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