Finely textured lean beef, commonly known as “pink slime” is all the rage with the United States beef industry. Up to 70% of beef sold in American supermarkets and up to 25% of American hamburger patties are made up of pink slime meat filler. Pink slime, made up of low grade boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) that come from the most contaminated parts of the cow, was once only used in dog food and cooking oil. But because Beef Products Inc. treats the product by simmering it in low heat, separating fat and tissue using a centrifuge and finally spraying it with ammonia gas to kill pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, the United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe to eat. According to the American Meat Institute, it is not considered an additive and therefore does not need to be on a label. However, the product contains mostly connective tissue, not meat, and therefore more resembles gelatin than beef and is less nutritious.
So who is using pink slime in meat? Surprisingly, many fast food companies like McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King have abandoned the product. However, pink slime is still making an appearance in the nation’s school lunch program and some supermarkets. According to The Daily, approximately 7 million tons of ammonium-treated beef have been scheduled as part of the school lunch programs in US schools. Approximately 6.5% of ground been destined for schools will have ammonium-hydroxide added. The US Food and Drug Administration classifies ammonium hydroxide food additive as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). But this begs the question, if ammonium hydroxide is not good enough for fast food chains, how come the US government is allowing it in schools?
ABC News ‘Pink Slime’ Outrage: Beef Industry Responds
ABC News emailed the top 10 grocery chains in America and seven responded.
- Safeway said, “We rely on the federal government to help guide us on food safety issues. USDA has been clear in its judgment that Lean Finely Textured Ground Beef is a safe source of nutrition. However, we are reviewing the matter at this time.”
- Ahold (Stop & Shop/Giant) said, “Stores operated by the divisions of Ahold USA do carry ground beef made with Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT), also called Finely Textured Beef (FTB). Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT) is beef and is absolutely safe for consumption. To make the product, beef companies use beef trimmings, which are the small cuts of beef that remain when larger cuts are trimmed down. These trimmings are USDA-inspected, wholesome cuts of beef. This process has been an industry standard for almost 20 years. Alternatives to the conventional ground beef supply, in the form of Certified Angus Beef and Nature’s Promise ground beef products, are available to customers in stores across all of the divisions of Ahold USA. These products do not include the use of BLBT. Customers are being encouraged to ask any meat associate should they have any questions or would like to be directed to meat that does not include Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings. Our labeling is in compliance with USDA regulations. BLBT is USDA tested and approved ground beef and therefore does not require labeling.”
- Costco said they do not use pink slime. According to Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance for Costco, “anything that we sell at Costco we want to explain it’s origins, and I personally don’t know how to explain trim treated with ammonia in our ground beef.”
- Publix said, “We have never allowed the use of LFTB (pink slime) in our meat. It’s 100 percent ground beef with no LFTB.”
- H-E-B said, “All our ground beef sold at H-E-B is 100% pure with no additives.”
- Whole Foods Market said it does not use pink slime.
- Kroger said, “We do not use finely textured beef in our fresh ground beef. … We are routinely presented the finely textured beef as an option, but have always refused.”
- Fred Meyer, Walmart, and Supervalu did not respond or had no comment on the issue.
The problem for consumers is that you can’t know from the packaging whether or not a product contains pink slime because it does not, by law, have to appear on the label. And the USDA is giving no indication it will force meat packers to lift the veil of secrecy any time soon. Your best bet right now is to lean towards stamped USDA Organic beef as it is pure meat without the use of any fillers.