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.