Schools may flunk ‘pink slime’ mys­tery meat

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MICHAEL HILL

AL­BANY, N.Y. | School dis­tricts soon will be able to opt out of a com­mon am­mo­nia-treated ground-beef filler crit­ics have dubbed “pink slime.”

Amid a grow­ing so­cial-me­dia storm over so-called “lean, finely tex­tured beef,” the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment an­nounced Thurs­day that start­ing next fall, schools in­volved in the na­tional school lunch pro­gram will have the op­tion of avoid­ing the prod­uct.

Un­der the change, schools will be able to choose be­tween 95 per­cent lean beef pat­ties made with the prod­uct or less lean bulk ground beef with­out it. The change won’t kick in im­me­di­ately be­cause of ex­ist­ing con­tracts, ac­cord­ing to a USDA of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of the decision.

Though the term “pink slime” has been used pe­jo­ra­tively for at least sev­eral years, it wasn’t un­til last week that so­cial me­dia sud­denly ex­ploded with worry and an on­line pe­ti­tion seek­ing its ouster from schools. The pe­ti­tion quickly gar­nered hun­dreds of thou­sands of sup­port­ers.

The low-cost in­gre­di­ent is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 F and spun to re­move most of the fat. The lean mix then is com­pressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The prod­uct, made by South Dakotabased Beef Prod­ucts Inc., also is ex­posed to “a puff of am­mo­nium hy­drox­ide gas” to kill bac­te­ria, such as E. coli and sal­mo­nella.

The depart­ment said it con­tin­ues to af­firm the safety of the am­mo­nia-treated lean, finely tex­tured beef as a filler but that it wanted to be trans­par­ent and school dis­tricts wanted choices.

The USDA buys about one-fifth of the food served in schools na­tion­wide.

The opt- out pro­vi­sion doesn’t go far enough for Rep. Chel­lie Pin­gree, Maine Demo­crat, who has asked Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Thomas J. Vil­sack to ban the prod­uct im­me­di­ately from school lunches.

“The beef in­dus­try sent my of­fice an email the other day de­scrib­ing pink slime as ‘whole­some and nu­tri­tious’ and said the process for man­u­fac­tur­ing it is ‘sim­i­lar to sep­a­rat­ing milk from cream.’ I don’t think a highly pro­cessed slurry of meat scraps mixed with am­mo­nia is what most fam­i­lies would think of as ‘whole­some and nu­tri­tious,’ ” Ms. Pin­gree said in a writ­ten state­ment.

There are no pre­cise num­bers on how preva­lent the prod­uct is, and it does not have to be la­beled as an in­gre­di­ent. Past es­ti­mates have ranged as high as 70 per­cent; one in­dus­try of­fi­cial es­ti­mates it is in at least half of the ground meat and burg­ers in the U.S.

The prod­uct has been on the mar­ket for years, and fed­eral reg­u­la­tors say it meets stan­dards for food safety. But ad­vo­cates for whole­some food have de­nounced the process as a po­ten­tially un­safe and un­ap­pe­tiz­ing ex­am­ple of in­dus­tri­al­ized food pro­duc­tion.

The phrase “pink slime,” coined by a fed­eral mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist, has ap­peared in the me­dia at least since a crit­i­cal 2009 New York Times re­port. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has railed against it, and it made head­lines af­ter Mcdon­ald’s and other ma­jor chains last year dis­con­tin­ued their use of am­mo­nia-treated beef.

BEEF PROD­UCTS INC. VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bone­less lean beef trim­mings, used as ground-beef filler but known as “pink slime” to crit­ics, awaits pack­ag­ing at Beef Prod­ucts Inc. The prod­uct is made from fatty left­over meat bits heated to about 100 F, spun to re­move fat, com­pressed and ex­posed to a small amount of am­mo­nium hy­drox­ide gas to kill bac­te­ria.

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