Although McDonald’s, Taco Bell & Burger King say they no longer use it as an ingredient in the fast food they serve, the US Dept of Agriculture is purchasing 7 million pounds of it for use in school lunches.
What is it? It is a ground-up combination of meat scraps, connective tissue and trimmings, treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. and then used as a filler in meat products, like hamburger patties, at a saving of 3¢ per pound. The industry calls this method Advanced Meat Recovery.
In the 1960s, someone figured out that meat processors could squeeze additional profit from chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows by scraping their bones 100% clean of meat. After the initial cutting, the scraps are put through a high pressure sieve. The result, officially called “lean meat trimmings,” goes on to become an ingredient in hamburgers, hot dogs, bologna, chicken nuggets, pepperoni, salami, jerky, etc.
In 2004, after the scare over mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service ruled that beef could no longer be safely processed in this way; testing showed that parts of bovine central nervous systems ended up in the meat. Neurological tissue (brain, spinal cord, etc,) is most likely to transmit mad cow disease.
Mysteriously, beef still figures in pink slime.
Although in the US, the additive itself can’t legally be sold directly to consumers, it can constitute up to 15% of ground beef without additional labeling and may be added to beef-based processed meats.
Prior to the invention of the disinfection process, beef scraps could be sold only as pet food. In President George H.W. Bush’s administration, critics say, scientists in DC were pressured to approve this stuff; presently the USDA asserts that it “meets the highest standard for food safety,” but, since no label is required to mention it, you can’t tell if it is in your food so you can’t avoid it.
According to the NY Times, E. coli and salmonella keep turning up in pink slime, in spite of disinfectants.
Abroad, there seems little doubt as to its safety and desirability; pink slime is banned in Canada and the European Union.
What consumers can do
• Ask school authorities what is in your kid’s school lunch.
• If you eat meat, avoid pre-made items like hamburger patties, chicken nuggets and hot dogs which always contain the worst meat and are always combined with fat and fillers. When eating out, choose food you recognize, like breast of chicken. What part of the bird is a nugget?
• If you use ground meat, pick out the piece you want and ask the butcher to grind it. Or, grind it yourself at home. A Cuisinart Food Processor does a splendid job, as does a hand-crank meat grinder.
• Badger your elected representatives to take up the cause of food safety. Don’t let anybody tell you that federal regulation of the food industry is a bad thing. Required reading: The Jungle written in 1906 by journalist Upton Sinclair, an exposé of the US meatpacking industry before there were regulations. It led to public demand for a series of laws to clean up shocking conditions in Chicago stockyards and elsewhere.