• Friday, March 9, 2012

    We are not really talking about pink slime

    What a lovely way to title a blog post! Pink slime! Wednesday night, ABC news reported a story about a product that is found in many ground beef products. They reported that a ‘whistle-blower’ USDA employee has come out telling the world about the evils of ‘Lean Finely-Textured Beef.’ This former USDA microbiologist, coined the term ‘pink slime.’ Celebrity chef, Jaime Oliver has falsely reported about this product in the past, too. He is so off-base and his approach is so theatrical, I couldn’t even bear to link to his video. 

    Since the ABC report, other news agencies have picked it up and informed us that Lean Finely-Textured Beef is in school lunches and in lots of the beef in grocery stores. The videos and the story links have been lighting up my facebook and Twitter feeds for the better part of two days. 

    First, what is ‘Lean Finely-Textured Beef?’

    What the media is calling pink slime, we, in the industry, call “Lean Beef Trimmings” or “Lean Finely Textured Beef”. I’ve done research with the stuff, and I didn’t think it was slimy at all. This is a picture of the LBT that we used for a research project last fall.
    It is kinda pink. News flash: meat is usually a pink or red color! It doesn’t really look like the typical ground beef in the grocery store because it is ground up much finer than that. It is also shipped frozen. It may be shipped in big frozen blocks, but we ordered it in this chipped version so we could weigh it out more easily.

    How is it made?

    When cattle are harvested and cut into the beef steaks and roasts that we buy at the grocery store or that restaurants buy, pieces of lean and fat are trimmed away. Some of that lean and fat can be used to make ground beef and other sausage products. But, some of it is too fatty for ground beef and sausage. There is still lean protein in the fatty parts, but, before the Lean Finely-Textured Beef process came along, there was not really an economical way to remove the lean protein from the fatty trim. So it was thrown away.

    Several years ago, a company called Beef Products Inc., patented a method to remove the lean tissue from the fatty trim. That way, the lean protein is not wasted and we are getting more protein out of every animal.

    So, how does it work?

    They start with fatty trim that is about 80% fat and 20% lean protein. These trimmings were sampled and tested by USDA for harmful bacteria before they arrived at the plant. The trimmings are heated it to about 100°F so that the fat will soften. Then, it is spun in a big mixing bowl machine to separate the lean from the fat.

    The lean is then treated with a puff of ammonia gas and the ammonia reacts with the water on the product and converts it to ammonium hydroxide. This treatment has been one of the hot-button issues for this whole process. Ammonia gas and ammonium hydroxide are not the same as the house-hold cleaner, as a certain celebrity chef wants you to believe. The gas treatment raises the pH of the meat and destroys the bacteria on the meat. (Dead bacteria can’t make your kids sick.) Essentially, the ammonium hydroxide makes the product even safer.

    Ammonium hydroxide is found naturally in some foods and other foods, such as baked goods, cheeses, caramels, chocolate, gelatins and puddings, contain ammonium hydroxide. Here is a video interview with Dr. Gary Acuff from Texas A&M talking about the addition of ammonium hydroxide to lean beef trimmings.

    So, it’s safe?
    The final product is tested for deadly bacteria before it leaves the plant. Countless scientists agree that this product is safe and is produced using a safe process. This article lists several of those scientists and statements they made about the safety of this product. These are microbiologists from Texas A and M University, scientists from USDA, a former president of the National Consumer League, and the nation’s leading food borne illness attorney.

    What products contain LBT?
    When LBT is made, it contains 95% lean protein or greater. So, it is added to ground beef to increase the lean percentage. Because of its fine texture, it can only be added in a small percentage or it will affect the texture of the ground beef. ABC reported that 70% of ground beef in grocery stores contain LBT. So far, I haven’t been able to confirm or deny that number. I couldn’t find the link to cite, but I believe that McDonald’s stopped using LBT because the finely textured properties didn’t work in their beef.

    Is it on the label?

    No. It is 100% beef. Lean Beef Trimmings is not listed as a separate ingredient on the label.

    Obviously, I am not the only person writing about this. There are several other blogs and articles to read.
    The American Meat Institute has a list of questions and answers about the process. My new twitter friend, Travis Arp, a graduate student at Colorado State, has seen the product being made and writes about it in this blog post. (New additions on Monday, March 12, 2012 - pinkslimeisamyth.com and a blog entitled Common Sense Agriculture)Beef Products Inc. has issued a statement about all the recent publicity. And, of course there is the Meat Myth Crushers video. The list could go on and on.

    3-28-12 amendment: Since I posted this, several more websites and articles have been posted telling the real story about Lean Finely-Textured Beef, ammonium hydroxide, and the safety of this product. I felt like I needed to add them to this post.
    • A video about the misrepresentation by Jaime Oliver.
    • A video about the use of ammonia in foods.
    • A interview with Dr. Thomas Powell, Executive Director of the American Meat Science Association (a personal friend of mine). This is a great explanation of this product.
    • A statement from the American Meat Institute President, J. Patrick Boyle.
    • A blog post by agriculture advocate, Trent Loos. (One huge step backwards for mankind.)
    • Several website links are available on the website beefisbeef.com.
    • A heart-wrenching article by Nancy Donley, president of STOP food borne illness. Her only child, Alex, died from kidney failure after consuming hamburger contaminated E. coli O157:H7.
    Please read or watch some of these resources and share the truth with people you know.

    Here is the bottom line on my thoughts about Lean Beef Trimmings.

    Yes, it is safe. It is treated to kill bacteria.

    Yes, it is wholesome. It is protein, that, without this process, we would not have access to.

    Yes, I would feed it to my family. I do.

    Disclaimer – the temperature and the ammonium hydroxide gas treatment are specific to the Lean Finely-Textured Beef product from one company. Other, similar products are also made, using similar processes.


    1. Good for you. I'm one of those not interested in eating it.

      Give the pink goo to animals.

    2. I want something more than pink slime, beef chips, frozen blocks or fine beef trimmings. Our parents didn't eat this, our grandparents didn't eat this and I don't want to eat this. To me it is like a house of cards. The more of these little tweaks we have in our diet the more ill we become. I'm passing on this product regardless of whether you deem it healthy & that you would eat it. My car will go 125 miles an hour but I don't drive that fast...just sayin'...

      1. Actually our parents and grandparents did eat this. Anyone who home butchered used every piece of meat there was. No one would waste food. It wasn't seperated from the fat the way BPI does it but it was eaten.
        After we killed the cow, hoisted it up, gutted it, and skinned it, the first cut my grandmother wanted was the tail. Oxtail, as she called it, was a delicacy, as was the tongue.
        This meat is trimmings, from the body of the cow, good meat that is surrounded by fat. Why would anyone throw away 10 to 12 pounds of meat out of every cow butchered?

    3. Thanks for the clear and understandable explanation of LBT. It was very helpful to me in understanding the process better. :)

    4. I hope some person learns from this there are unscrupulous people telling lies and misrepresenting things about our food because they want to make certain products more expensive and they want to hurt farmers, not because they care about our health. And just because the media is carrying the story, it does not mean it's true. They have no obligation to be truthful. If it sounds sensational, question it immediately. Widespread manipulation of public opinion and exploitation of fears create pointless and unnecessary distrust, and that winds up hurting everyone. Go to a reliable source for information; your state agriculture department or local farm group. Let's stay in control and not let fanatics dictate our decisions or soon we will loose our choices.

      1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    5. Thanks for explaining this process in a way that is easy to understand.

    6. First of all, before this process was created, the trimmings weren't just thrown away. They were put into non-human grade food, i.e: dog and cat food. Secondly, ammonium hydroxide is not a gas. They spray it with ammonia gas which reacts with the moisture in the "meat" to create ammonium hydroxide. It seems you don't have all the facts you think you do.

      1. I appreciate all comments, negative and positive, but I will not allow profanity on my blog. So, I deleted a previous comment.

        I did know that it was in fact ammonia gas that is sprayed on the LBT, but I tried to simplify the explanation. I'm sorry you felt my explanation was too simple.

        I will correct the post as soon as I can. Thanks.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. Great job creating a single site with so much quality information as well as great links.

      What we have all been exposed to ,prior to sites like this, is a classic example of media sensationalism aimed at ratings rather than facts. Let's all be good consumers and educate ourselves before we jump on the ban wagon. There are a plenty of credible sources out there we can use to make our own decisions. "A well informed consumer has the tools to, and will, make good decisions".

    9. Thanks for explaining the process of LFTB/pink slime. This was helpful in putting my mind at ease that the government is really not trying to poison us as I have read on other sites. Obviously a clear case of sensationalism vs. fact. Crazy how a lot of people will believe a crazy story but when presented with the facts, then they find it hard to believe. thanks again.

    10. Janeal, maybe you can explain this rationally: why is mechanically separated chicken or pork required to be labeled but not LFTB? Is mechanically separated chicken "just" chicken?

    11. Carrie,
      They are not really same process. In mechanically separated chicken, the meat is removed from the bone, whereas with LFTB, meat is removed from the fat (we just toured the plant that makes it last week!). Because some little bits of bone get pulled off with the mechanically separated chicken, the calcium levels in mechanically separated chicken are higher than just 'chicken', and some people are sensitive to calcium. That's why MSC has to be labeled.
      Thanks for the great question. I hope I answered it.

      1. Hi, Janeal,

        Thanks for the quick response. That's very interesting that the only reason MSC needs to be on the label is because of a technical detail like that. At some point, this is splitting hairs and as a consumer, it's pretty frustrating. I'm not here to stir the pot, though. If you're open to it, I'd love to give you a call.

    12. JanealY..I just got this link from a facebook page...I liked your answer and your demeanor on this blog. I sell seafood so I have been involved with the sustainability issue and the misinformation that ends up in the media...so i can relate...you just keep on working with safety and yield(important to consumer prices) and i will keep on consuming yummy farm products...also do the slaughter houses sell their 80/20 to a plant that processes this material? I would imagine that is how it works...the 80/20 must be stored in a sanitized container and shipped in "reefer" units to the processing plant right? safety first! :) Anyway heres to disseminating correct info! :)

      1. Thanks for the great comment. The way I understand the market is that this company buys fatty trim (80% fat) from the slaughter houses to produce this product. Then, they sell their 95% lean product to processors that mix it in ground beef to help make it leaner. Those may or may not be the same companies that sold them the fat trim.

        And yes, any edible meat product would be shipped and stored in santized containers and always held at refrigerated temperatures. When the LFTB is finished, it is shipped and stored frozen.

        I hope I answered your questions.
        Thanks again,

    13. I have several comments. First, the article was misleading by negating stating ammonium hydroxide is a result of a chemical reaction of ammonia gas reacting to meat, as you previously accepted as fact in a separate comment. I formerly learned from a chemistry professor the process of ammonia treated meat. I trust his educated and experienced 40 years as a chemist in the food industry prior to teaching; that ammonia treated meat is the most unnatural and most hazardous processed product to consume. You have listed several sources, but all are in agreement with your belief. I will believe an unbiased, peer reviewed, valid, and reproducible scientific journal. Until then, I suspect you will delete this comment as you have many others.

      1. Dear Anonymous,
        I appreciate all comments on my blog. I have deleted a few because the writer used profanity or they were robo-comments that were just trying to sell something. If you'll notice on this and other posts, there are comments that don't agree with what I posted, and I haven't deleted them.
        When I first wrote this post, I tried to simplify the explanation of the ammonia gas process and another commenter didn't agree with my over-simplified explanation and I changed the post. The way the post reads now is the correct explanation of the process.
        The process for using ammonium hydroxide in food was declared as (GRAS) Generally Recognized as Safe in 1974, so the need to study its safety is rather pointless. Therefore, finding current, peer-reviewed, scientific articles in open-access journals has been a challenge. But, here is an article from the Journal of Food Protection (2003) "Impact of pH Enhancement on Populations of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings,” vol. 66, no. 5 (2003), pp. 874-877.
        I would certainly be interested to know of any peer-reviewed articles that have found it unsafe if you would share them. Please feel free to comment or email me. jws09@uark.edu
        Thanks again for the comment,