Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is pink slime what's for dinner?

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:


jaymieg said...

Ackkkk, Heidi, you're killing me in only the best way. So, I'm a mom of 4 and I do feed them fast food about 4 times per month or so. After last month and the meat glue I banned chicken nuggets from McDonalds. Okay, so now, what would you suggest as the best option for my kids in the fast-food market? Nothings is not an option....sorry, I'm not that good. Chik-Fil-A?
Oh, and I'm so having my meat for hamburgers ground now!

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

LOL, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Jaymie! I really do a lot of soul-searching on what I post. In this case I had to admit I wish I had known this a long time ago (when I did eat fast-food), so I had to write this. I'm not sure what your options are for fast-food, because there are no eat-out options for me anymore. I'll send you a message and try to help you figure something out!

Anonymous said...

I for one plan on emailing wendy's, white castle, sonic and every supermarket chain in my state to find out whether they use "pink slime" in their ground beef (I already know mcdonalds, red robin and burger king use it). Until then, it's freshly ground beef done before my very eyes or no ground beef at all. I want answers and I intend to find them.

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

Good for you! After seeing "Food, Inc." (the first time I heard anything about pink slime), I began to look at the entire food system differently. I had never known anything about feed lots, or many of the other issues surrounding the food that we eat. I now believe that we can not possibly be too diligent about what we put on our plates.

Curtis said...

Are there any studies or journals stating these claims? I know the usual answer is to Google this or that but often times they lead to unsubstantiated claims by unaccredited individuals who perpetuate the conjecture without much else.

I have seen the movies you've listed and would agree that the corporations all look after the bottom line which is why I've tried to swear off process foods as much as I can. Fast food has become a faint memory of my sinful past but who would have thought buying ground meat to make your own "healthy" meals would unwittingly be as bad as the fast junk you get.

Anyway, happy evangelizing. I'll be sure to look in to this and in the mean time will cross off one more item of things to buy from my grocery store.

Heidi a/k/a Thistle said...

Hey Curtis. I can go you one better than a journal or study, how about the company that makes ammoniated meat filler? I wont post a link to their site, but you can Google 'Beef Products Inc.'. If you have any trouble finding it, you can message me and I will email you the link.

To address your comment about my "evangelizing", I can say that stings a bit, but I don't think it is truly accurate. Webster defines the word evangelize as:1. to preach the gospel, & 2. to convert to Christianity. The majority of my blog is recipes, with some commentary, but I try to refrain from preaching. I also try to encourage my readers to research and make their own informed decisions. In this case, I was disturbed that even simple ground beef can contain an element that is processed far beyond what I would have imagined. For a person as sensitive to food additives as I am, I have to know what is in my food, and I also prefer to be aware about the processes that take it from field to table.