Pink Slime, Rejected by McDonald’s, Goes to School Lunches Instead

Pink Slime - beef trimmings + ammonium hydroxide

How’s this for taking care of our kids? McDonald’s refuses to put a dubious meat by product into its burgers, but the government orders 7 million  pounds of “Pink Slime” for its school lunch program.

The pink slime is a mix of fat trimmings and ammonia-hydroxide that is added to ground beef to fatten it up, and make it cheaper. It’s manufacturer is Beef Products Incorporated (BPI), which claimed in 2010 that its product could be found in 70% of the ground beef in America! From BPI’s web site:

Beef Products, Inc. is the world’s leading producer of lean beef processed from fresh beef trimmings… Our lean beef is an important part of many common foods; from fresh retail ground beef, to foodservice beef patties, hamburgers, cooked meats, and processed luncheon meats to name a few. BPI’s lean beef is a part of nearly 20 billion meals per year, with an unsurpassed food safety record, adding over $250 Million in value to the U.S. beef industry annually… We use a natural compound – called ammonium hydroxide, which is widely used in the processing of numerous foods, such as baked goods, cheeses, gelatins, chocolate, caramels, and puddings – to slightly increase the pH level in beef and improve its safety.

What you need to know:

OK, so these guys figured out a way to take unused scraps of meat and connective tissue and turn it into a profitable business. They should be commended, not chastised right?

WRONG! Turns out these scraps, in the past relegated to pet food, have a high tendency for contamination with e-coli and salmonella. Ammonium Hydroxide – ammonium in water – is an ingredient in many household cleaning products. It kills bacteria. The FDA considers it safe.

So what’s the problem?

Despite the use of ammonium hydroxide to bath the meat scraps, outbreaks of  e-coli and salmonella continue. Which means BPI’s manufacturing method is not at all safe. USDA scientists warned about this, but their voice was muted by then Undersecretary of the USDA, JoAnn Smith.

Guess where Mrs. Smith ended up working (as a board member) after leaving the USDA?

That’s right, non other than BPI!

Bettina Siegel, Houston food activist and blogger for the Lunch Tray, has started an online petition to tell the USDA to stop using pink slime in school food. Over 10,000 people have signed so far in just 3 days. Please take moment to the Uncle Sam to leave pink slime out of our kids’ food.

What to do at the supermarket:

For those of us who read food labels, there is no way to know if BPI products are in your ground beef. There is no labeling requirement. If you want to be sure no pink slime is in your ground beef, buy whole cuts an have them ground in front you.

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  • Bettina Elias Siegel

    Fooducate:  Thank you very much for sharing this information and the petition with your readers!  And just to keep everyone up to date, it’s now actually 25,000+ signatures in just four days!  

  • Steve

    There is absolutely no evidence (and, shown from your post, you can’t find any either) that boneless lean beef trimming (BLBT) has had any role in any increase in illnesses as a result of Salmonella or E. coli .  From a safety standpoint, BLBT is a better product than most other ground beef out there because it has gone through a validated kill step.  There is a huge amount of misinformation out there about this product, but anyone who works in the food safety industry (including plaintiffs’ attorneys) understand that this product is quite safe.  If you have problems with this product, I can only imagine what you must think of ground turkey, ground pork, or all those fancy organic sausages, hot dogs, or bratwursts (all of which contain meat or poultry products which come from far less appetizing sources than BLBT).  

    • Restore

       ”It is understandable why more people are deciding to avoid meat products altogether.”

      • Steve

        I think this is a fair statement.  If you are not willing to go to packing plant and see the animal slaughtered and processed, maybe you should probably not be eating meat.  I like Temple Grandin’s idea of putting publicly-viewable cameras in slaughter and packing facilities.  I think most in the public would be surprised at how well the animals are treated and how much work goes into keeping their food safe.  I approached my first visit to a slaughter facility with trepidation, wondering if it would turn me into a vegetarian.  To the opposite, it was a great experience and gave me renewed confidence in our food production system. 

    • Lex

      What you meant to say was that there is absolutely no publicly available research or information about the meatlike substance at all – so how exactly are we to find evidence for its safety or danger at all? When confronted with a substance that is suspicious, whose nutritional content is deliberately kept secret, it only makes sense to strongly discourage consumption.

    • Anonymous

       ”There is absolutely no evidence…”

      Spoken like a true lobbyist.  Sounds like someone who’s paid to visit sites like this.

    • Carlisasapphiremind

      It has already been determined that is unsafe even by former USDA officials.  If you don’t research you should comment

      • Steve

        Determination by an ex-USDA official that he didn’t like the process doesn’t mean it is unsafe.  
        Keep in mind salmonella is not an adulterant in meat products and the incidence of STECs other than the so-called “Big 6″ in meat is exceedingly low.  But people will believe what they want to believe, especially if they can find some conspiracy theory.   

        • Fooducate

          Steve – quick question: do you find no fault in Mrs Smith leaving her senior USDA position to be on the board of BPI just after approving their business model that would generate millions in compensation for herself?

          • Steve

            I could be wrong, but I don’t think Ms. Smith ever worked on the board at BPI.  From everything I have read online, it looks like Ms. Smith worked (and still works) on the board at Tyson.  As a packer, i’m sure Tyson sells some of its lean product to BPI, and probably also buys processed material to incorporate into its grinds.  But that’s not the same thing as working for BPI.  From everything I read online as well, it looks like she made the equivalent of $70k a year for that board service.  Do you think she made her decision based upon a measly $70k a year?  Keep in mind she could make several multiples of that working for numerous other industry companies, as a private consultant, or as a lobbyist. 

            I can understand why some may find the movement of employees back and forth between the government and private industry (see, for instance, the recent furor over Michael Taylor) troublesome.  But put yourself in their shoes.  You work for the government for years and gain some expertise in some subject matter or industry.  For whatever reason, you decide to leave government.  Where are you supposed to go?  Where your skill set is most applicable?

  • Candace Thompson Warner

    Glad to know it isn’t in McDonalds burgers.  Who would have thought that taking your kid to McDonalds would be better than hot lunch at school.  sad world

    • Jancouons

      Well it was in MD’s burgers until recently, real recently…..

  • Guest

    I believe kosher meat cannot have pink slime in it…?

    • Daized79

      I’ve seen this around the Web, but why would this have anything to do with kosher?  As long as the meat isn’t from areas of the cow we can’t eat (around the sciatic nerve and the rump), it sounds like it would be fine if it’s salted first.  But that might be the problem.  They cook this stuff and it may be impractical to hang it for the blood to drip out and salt it first.  I can’t figure out if these trimmings come after the animal is butchered or before.  Wish I knew more, but if it’s true, I’d guess that’s why.

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  • 3poors

    All this argument about evidence….obviously there are discussing meat practices and chemicals used, like chickens being soaked in chlorine. Clearly truely ORGANIC solves everything. So let’s start shutting down these companies by supporting local organic farmers…or just choose better organic for your family at least.

  • Shai

    WOW!! So sad and disturbing on the levels these BIG companies will go to in order to make a buck! And the US wonders why Americans are over weight / have so many health issues.
    Update: I just signed & it is over 125k signatures now.

  • Douglas MacKay

    “Rejected by McDonald’s”, that’s NOT actually the truth at all! They may or may not being using in their ground beef, testing has not been done recently on their hamburgers. So let’s talk Chicken, remember the McNuggets and the strange shapes, that was pick slime chicken product - McDonald’s ONLY stopped using this pink slime when they were caught for using last year!

  • tiny

    amonium hydroxide is a chemical,  I don’t want it in my kid’s food.  Any trimmings that would need this to make it safe enough to eat should not be EATEN at all.

  • CT

    I will agree that “pink slime” has a terrible image problem — regardless of whether you know what it is or how it is made.  But, I would recommend a quick read of an article on Food Safety News for some additional information:

    Things I found interesting: It is actually very low in fat.  The result is a very lean beef: approximately 94-97% lean. 

    Regarding ammonia:  Ammonia is formed naturally in the body as a result of protein digestion by
    bacteria that live in the intestines. The ammonia is carried in the
    blood (as ammonium hydroxide) to the liver; there it is converted to
    urea, which exits the body in the urine. It is normal and usual to find a
    certain amount of ammonium hydroxide in meat.  Ammonium hydroxide has been used as an antimicrobial agent in meat for more than 40 years.

    • Carlisasapphiremind

      you can justify all you want but i read the article and it still doesn’t make it right.  That ammonia is chemically generated, not the same as what we make in our bodies.  They didn’t lay someone down and and extract that ammonia from them or catch their voided and use it raw. Even if they are using it for a base, its still wrong because its a reason its disposed. Don’t you find it disturbing that they are using that?

  • Supermom101x2

    Fooducate rocks!  My question to those that may comment here that have (ahem) possible industry ties: since when do I need a PhD in chemistry, a lab coat, and an industry funded study to make my kids lunch?

    Common sense is not so common. – Voltaire

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  • randyduttion

    ‘Pink Slime’ is a short story I wrote and published a couple weeks ago. It discusses much more of the issue than you see in the press. Available electronically from Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, it is easily available and you can preview it. Just type in Pink Slime on any of those book sellers and it’ll pop up.  PinkSlime dot us is another route.

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  • ToughStuff2012

    I don’t mind pink slime. Its pretty healthy actually. 

    If you have a problem with it, then just cut out beef and chicken all together and start sending your kids to school with a nice green salad mix along with some boneless and skinless sardines in olive oil. 

    • R3d3mption

      Uhmmm…gross. >:D