I recently wrote a post about meat glue, and in light of the reactions that I received, I also felt that it would be a good idea to share some information about another food industry item: pink slime. If you have watched Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" or "Food, Inc.", you may have heard about it, but if you haven't you may want to brace yourself. Pink slime is what it is usually called, but it also goes by the name ammoniated boneless lean beef trimmings, or even more misleading, it can simply be called boneless lean beef trimmings. This is a PC way of saying undesirable meat scraps (parts that at one time were reserved strictly for pet food, sometimes also referred to as ‘sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor') that have been run through a centrifuge to separate out the fat, treated with ammonium hydroxide (to kill the pathogens like E. coli) and frozen into blocks or chips of a mash-like substance. Alarmingly the company that makes this additive produces 7 million pounds a week. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that the process is approved by the USDA, and that they allow up to 15% of a pound of meat to be made up of this filler. Since the ammonia is classified as a processing agent, it does not have to be listed on the ingredients list for the foods that you eat.
Where might you encounter this product? It is used in fast food (hamburgers, tacos, etc), low-fat hot dogs, taco meat, various processed meat products, and even school lunches and the ground beef from your supermarket. I wont name names, but if you have eaten at the big chain, fast-food establishments, you have more than likely eaten pink slime. I don't know about you, but having it ‘my way' should not include meat-like substances that have to be treated with disinfectant. While we are on the subject, I wasn't happy when I knew this stuff was used in dog food, so you can imagine how I felt when I found out that it had been put on our menus without notice. By the way, this has probably been going on for quite a while, since I found an article from January 2005 that described the process and company quite clearly, and a reference from a 2002 USDA email . The company has been in business since 1981, but I don't know when they started production of this particular product.
I would like to address a particular point in this debate. The proponents of this method focus on the ammonia and how it is a naturally occurring substance. As little as I like the idea of the use of ammonia, or the conditions that lead to the need for such decontamination (feed lots, mass-production of beef, etc.), my primary objection is the slime itself. As is the case with meat glue, I take issue with the deceit of this practice. How many consumers would (or will) choose to eat this additive? Shouldn't we have that choice?
If you feel as I do, you may be asking how you can avoid this product. The best way to avoid the slime is to buy grass-fed beef straight from the butcher, and don't be squeamish about asking if your butcher adds ammoniated filler. You can also join a meat co-op or select a chuck roast and ask the butcher to grind it while you wait, or even take it home and grind it yourself. It goes without saying that it would also be wise to make your own hamburgers, and skip the drive-through.
I doubt it is the last gruesome tidbit that we will discover, and as hard as it is to know this information, I would rather face the facts of what we are up against. We are NOT powerless to cause change, especially as more people become aware of the truth and start to vote with their dollar. If we demand a change, and hit food-like producers where it hurts (the pocketbook), they will have no choice but to change their method of operation to start selling real, quality food.
Follow-up: Pink slime revisited
If you would like to read more, here are several articles that I found in my research of this topic: