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Monday, March 12, 2012

Is PINK SLIME dangerous to consumers?

   The ABC news has recently run reports on what is being termed "Pink Slime" on March 7th, 8th and 9th decrying its use in food production. Feel free to watch the most recent report from Friday's evening news. Before this past week, I had never heard anything about this "Pink Slime", so of course I was curious to figure out what was going on. Turns out, I actually did know about the stuff, as I had seen it produced in 2009 when I had the opportunity to tour the facility where it is processed.

   For those of you who don't know what it is, the "Pink Slime" being referred to is actually "Lean, Finely, Textured Ground Beef" or LFTB, so from hereon I'll refer to it as that. I remember going to the Beef Products Inc. (BPI) packing plant where the product is made and the whole trip really impressed me. To explain, the vast majority of beef comes from whole muscle cuts that are safely harvest from the animal after exsanguination. However, we raise some pretty chubby cattle today, as we prefer the taste of high-quality beef that grades USDA Choice or Prime. In doing so, there is some fat on the external part of the carcass that is trimmed off to be used to make other by-products for food or manufacturing. When that fat is trimmed off, there is a small proportion of meat remaining in the fat and BPI (and others) have an extraction process that separates that lean meat from those fat trimmings. Part of the extraction process involves using ammonium hydroxide or citric acid mist to make sure the product is free of bacteria or any other microorganisms. The mist then evaporates and is not present in the final product, although both are approved for use in meat and other foods as well.

   When I saw this process, I remember how amazing I thought it was that by using our brains and clever technology, we could utilize an additional 10 to 12 lbs of beef from each animal. This is increasingly important as we see the cost of food continue to rise for various reasons, we need to be efficient in order to feed 9 billion people by 2050. LFTB was approved as safe and wholesome for use in food back in the 1990's by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the director of the FSIS at the time, Dr. Russell Cross, recently made a statement reaffirming his belief in the safety of the product, which I've posted below:

Statement From H. Russell Cross, Ph.D.

Professor and Head of Department of Animal Science, Texas A&M University
"As Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) in the early 90s, I and my staff evaluated numerous research projects before approving lean, finely textured beef as a safe source of high-quality protein. The FSIS safety review process was and is an in-depth, science-based process that spans years, many research projects and involves many experts across all levels of the agency-and in this case, the process proved the product is safe."

"Approving lean finely textured beef as safe was the right decision, and today, it remains a safe way to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population. All beef is a good or excellent source of 10 essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc and B-vitamins.

"Finely textured lean beef helps us meet consumer demand for safe, affordable and nutritious food."

 While I am not an expert on the product, I know that it is a safe, nutritious product which is the same thing as regular ground beef, just processed in a different way. There is alot of science that supports this, or else it would have never been allowed into the food chain to start with. I recommend reading some additional materials prepared by people much smarter than I.

Engineering a Safer Burger - An excellent newpaper article by the Washington Post about the history of the product

I hope that this information can be helpful to anyone concerned about using Lean, Finely Textured Ground Beef, and just know that I'll continue eating burgers because I'm confident in the safety of U.S. produced beef. One last trivia piece, over the past decade, the number of ground beef samples testing positive for E. coli 0157:H7 have been cut in half, and the use of LFTB has helped contribute to this decrease!




  1. Thanks for this first-hand account. Actually shared with some friends from church who were voicing concerns last night.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting on our blog, Madeline and Kara. We are glad this info helped you out!



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