Heads up: This post is not for the weak stomached. My tummy has been in turmoil for days since I first started researching pink slime and since I am still queasy, this post is largely based on what I have found around the internet.
What exactly is “pink slime”?
In the process of trimming beef into the cuts of meat which are purchased by grocery stores, restaurants, and food processors, the remnants are reserved. Previously, these pieces have been considered not suitable for human consumption because of their proximity to the fatter places on the animal. (From my understanding, the hormones and harmful pathogens are retained in the fat.)
These leftover bits are heated to about 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) and spun to remove a majority of the fat. [Source*] Some companies then expose the meat to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella*. Then, the remains are pressed into blocks and can be ground into pellets.
The highly-processed product is called “lean finely textured beef (LFTB),” “boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT),” “finely textured beef (FTB),” or “pink slime.” I will let you decide which name you prefer.
“Not only is this product a potential source of killer pathogens if the ammonia levels are not controlled properly, but that the overall protein quality of the beef hamburger is compromised by the inclusion of LFTB,” former US Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein said. [Source]
Because the pink slime is essentially leftovers that would previously be made into dog food or disposed of as waste, the compressed meat is very inexpensive. Since the process leaves the meat so lean and the cost is lower than typical beef, butchers will mix it into fattier ground meat to make a leaner product, stretching the stock of their meat.
That means two packages labeled “ground beef 80 percent lean” may look and sound the same but be composed of different meats. One *could be unadulterated ground beef made from cuts of meat containing 20 percent fat. The other could be made from poorer quality – much fattier – meat but cut with and made leaner by pink slime, a term coined by a federal microbiologist grossed out by it and now widely used by critics and food activists.
Beef Product Inc., which started a website to give them a platform to refute criticism, and the National Meat Association are now in a battle to validate the use of pink slime and the process by which it is manufactured. They affirm that ammonium hydroxide is used in other processed foods such as baked goods, puddings and more. (Thanks for blowing the whistle on that!)
BPI has even gone so far as to insinuate that eating the processed meat is healthy by saying, “Including LFTB in the national school lunch program’s beef products accomplishes three important goals on behalf of 32 million kids… It 1) improves the nutritional profile, 2) increases the safety of the products and 3) meets the budget parameters that allow the school lunch program to feed kids nationwide every day.” [Source]
What this means to me…
Whether or not pink slime is just a monster made by the media or a legitimate concern, this debate gives me all the more reason to avoid processed foods. The meat which goes into your frozen lasagna can contain as much pink slime as the industry allows. You will never know. The precooked burgers… beef hot dogs… frozen entrees… pink slime? Considering that a company can use the cheap, processed meat as a filler and save a lot of money, I think they would go that route. Sure, they do it with the intention of keeping the cost down because paying the price for conventional ground beef would be passed on to the consumer in the checkout lane, but ultimately, it reminds me that I can only control what I make myself.
Which brings me a step further…
I have long been a supporter of buying ground meat in chubs, the pre-wrapped, oblong packages of beef where you cannot see what is inside. However, I will no longer do that.
Honestly, the last time I purchased ground beef that way (at Walmart), I noticed the texture was different from the beef I had been purchasing (ground in the store at Winn Dixie). The Washington Post* decided to support a taste test with hopes to determine if you could tell the difference between ground beef with and without pink slime and the findings are what I expected. The meat which includes pink slime has a chewier texture. I personally believe that ground beef sold in chubs contains pink slime. I have no proof of it other than my personal experience with the difference in taste/texture.
How you can avoid pink slime
If you are wondering if your store carries meat containing pink slime, this website has a very good list but the best way to avoid pink slime, if you so choose, is:
- to ask the butcher to grind a roast for you.
- purchase a grinder and grind a roast yourself.
That way, the ground beef you pay for will be lean but in the way you would expect and not because of a filler.
- and, avoid all processed foods.
I’m not sure what caused the recent attention to pink slime but I am grateful because it is not something which I was previously aware. As a frugal-living, penny-pinching person, I can only imagine how much… gulp… pink slime I have fed my family. No more. I am paying attention and I want what I pay for. Beef. And as unprocessed as possible.
What are your thoughts about pink slime?
Linked with love at The Mommy Club.
*Many of the original posts which were linked in this article have been removed by those websites.