For more than a decade Americans have been chomping into burgers unaware that the ground beef likely contains a filler called “pink slime.” Earlier this month the spotlight was trained on pink slime when an Internet news source published an expose of its use. Since then, public outrage has compelled the Safeway supermarket chain to discontinue selling ground beef laced with pink slime.
Fresh from the slaughterhouse floor
It used to be that slaughterhouse waste was reserved for pet food. Then came pink slime. In 2001 Beef Products, Inc., a company in South Dakota, was granted USDA approval for a process that extracts fat from trimmings and connective tissue left on the slaughterhouse floor. The resulting substance is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill the E. coli and salmonella contaminants. The final product is a gelatinous pink mass euphemistically dubbed “Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings,” or BLBT.
Absent from food labels
Former microbiologists at the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service nicknamed the goo “pink slime” and filed formal protests against the agency’s controversial decision to classify BLBT as “meat.” Even so, consumers have been unaware they are eating pink slime because it’s allowed to be classified as “beef” and therefore need not be disclosed on food labels. Beef Products, Inc. also convinced the FDA to classify ammonium hydroxide as a processing agent, not a food additive, so it isn’t required on labels either.
Until recently, cheap slime has been mixed into ground beef as cheap filler in up to 15 percent of school lunches—7 million pounds of it. According to ABC News, 70 percent of the ground beef sold at U.S. supermarkets and up to 25 percent of each hamburger patty contain pink slime.
One less purveyor of pink slime
Furor over pink slime may have reached a crescendo, but the controversy isn’t exactly new. Last August McDonald’s stopped selling pink slime burgers after pressure from food activists including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Safeway bowed to public pressure on March 21, saying “considerable consumer concern” led to its decision even though the chain believes pink slime is safe:
“While the USDA and food industry experts agree that lean finely textured beef is safe and wholesome, recent news stories have caused considerable consumer concern about this product. Safeway will no longer purchase ground beef containing lean finely textured beef.”
Safeway, with1,400 stores, has joined Publix, HEB, Whole Foods and Costco in promising their ground beef is pink slime free. The USDA said last week it will let school districts know which of its suppliers use pink slime so administrators can opt out of using beef from those sources starting next school year.