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Separating facts from propaganda surrounding 'pink slime

Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2012, at 8:59 AM

Imagine my surprise when I turned on the news the other day and heard them talking about "pink slime." According to the report, the product is used in 70 percent of the beef sold in America's supermarket.

As a beef producer, I had never heard of "pink slime." But I know anything that rocks the public trust in beef eventually affects cattle farmers.

Among the "facts" presented were the slime was cleaned using ammonia. It conjured up thoughts of the ammonia I use to clean the bathroom in my house.

The news report went on to say the meat came from slaughter house scraps normally used for pet food or oil.

All this seemed just a little far-fetched. If it was so bad, why weren't people getting sick? Was this something new?

However, there wasn't any other side presented and anything the news media called "pink slime" must be bad, right?

But, I decided to do some of my own research.

I first found out "pink slime" is actually lean, finely textured beef. It comes from the trim (the part of the beef carcass that comes after you cut off the steaks and the roasts, etc.) and is added to some hamburger to make it leaner. It became widely used as more and more people demanded leaner beef.

The company under the gun right now is Beef Products Inc. and its founder Eldon Roth. An American family business for more than 30 years, BPI came up with a process to save the pieces of meat left over after meat was trimmed of fat.

The result is a meat product which is about 95 percent lean beef. It's also important to note in more than 20 years of use, there has never been a food-borne illness associated with BPI's lean beef.

In 2007, the International Association for Food Protection awarded BPI with it's highest honor, the Black Pearl Award due to BPI's commitment to food safety.

The truth is lean, finely textured beef is actually a sustainable product, helping to make hamburger more affordable and healthier for consumers. It brings to mind the saying, "Waste Not, Want Not," my mother-in-law was fond of using.

We wouldn't be here today if the people who settled our prairie wouldn't have eaten foods like head cheese, tongue, tripe and liver, not to mention sausage. Personally, besides sausage, you won't find me eating any of those things today. But they didn't have grocery stores, food safety experts or the USDA.

However, I was still a little squeamish about this ammonia cleaning process. It sounded like the meat was dipped in. After a little research, I found it is actually ammonium hydroxide, a gas. It has been used as a process aid in numerous foods we eat on a regular basis, including baked goods, cheeses, gelatins, chocolate, caramels and puddings. It is actually naturally occurring in most foods, including beef.

Ammonium hydroxide is used to keep us safe from food-borne illnesses and has been on the Generally Regarded as Safe list since 1974. It is not only approved here in the U.S. but also in other countries, including the European Union and Australia.

Of your hamburger, the beef patty has the least amount of ammonium hydroxide. A 3.2 ounce burger contains 200 parts per million, while a two-ounce bun includes more than twice as much, 440 parts per million.

If you choose American cheese for your burger, it has more than both combined at 813 ppm. Mayonnaise has 411 parts per million, while onions include 269 ppm. Ketchup, cheddar cheese, blue cheese, onions, chicken, brussels sprouts, gelatin, peanut butter and potato chips are just a few of the foods we eat which have considerably more ammonium hydroxide included than so-called "pink slime."

Sadly, though, BPI announced on Monday, March 26, it will shut down operations at three of the four plants that make the product. In all, BPI supports more than 3,000 American jobs.

What it makes it worse is Seattle food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who has made a name litigating food safety complaints on behalf of consumers, called the BPI plant he toured, "an amazing facility."

He noted their safety record.

"I've been in a lot of food-processing facilities -- the scale of this one and the amount of stainless steel and cleanliness that I saw was pretty staggering," he said, in a Los Angeles Times article.

The factory, he said, shares a wall with one of Tyson Food's largest slaughter factories, which brings in meat trim via a conveyor belt. Hundreds of employees in hard hats, hair nets and white coats bustled around the odorless space, where Marler said he would see 60-pound boxes of lean meat that "looked a lot like hamburger -- not the slimy stuff that looks like toothpaste."

We have a right to safe food. But unless we want to go back to processing our own chickens and hogs, growing our own vegetables and baking from scratch, we need to do some of our own research. At least we could trust people like Marler, who have made a living keeping our food industry accountable to consumer safety.

According to the article, Marler said the only thing BPI actually did wrong was from a "public relations standpoint."

But that really doesn't matter. In the end, most people only heard the the nickname, "pink slime." School after school and grocery store after grocery store have cancelled their hamburger orders containing lean, finely textured beef.

I think it is a sad day when the truth isn't as important as perception.

I sure hope they don't look closer at what's in my favorite chocolate bar.






Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Actually ChickenPotPie according to what I have read the use of BPI's lean meat has actually meant using 1.5 million fewer beef cows for processing. So, actually replacing this product means farmers will need to produce more beef and need more corn, etc. So it doesn't hurt me, at all. But it does affect the hardworking people losing their jobs at BPI, along with those people who struggle to afford higher priced proteins.

I don't know anything about Cargill's production of lean beef.

I can't help but wonder why when the Indians used every bit they could get off of their harvests (i.e. buffalo) it is considered sustainable. But if it is done now, it is considered pink slime.

I personally think this is just another step towards getting our meat products from China. Then, who knows what we will be getting?


-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 12:52 PM

Here we go again, being led around by the nose on information furnished by someone looking to write a story and doing little research. No, I don't mean Marcia. I mean the author who coined the phrase "pink slime". Have you ever ate a hot dog? Have you ever had "round steak"? (If you don't know what I mean by "round steak" then you didn't grow up poor) I guarantee if you research how those products are made the hamburger from the controversial substance would be considered a gourmet meal.

-- Posted by red dog on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 1:04 PM


I see no notations of fecal matter; Chickenpotpie, you've referred to it twice - is that an assumption or something you've read? If it's something you've read, I'm very concerned & I'd like to also read about it - could you post a link to some articles you've seen?

-- Posted by patron on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 2:54 PM

Brava! A well written REASONED article about so-called pink slime...I'm on BPI's side with this. There's too much hype, misinformation, and outright lies about the pink slime out there. Thank you, Marsha, for setting the record straight, even if people refuse to believe you.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Wed, Mar 28, 2012, at 9:13 PM

Actually, ChickenPotpie, I think we're more open-minded than you are - and I, for one, don't watch Faux News.

However, I do think that doing complete research into everything before making judgement is the best call. That means looking at ALL the reputable sources out there - not just ones billing themselves as "green." I think Marcia points out some very strong facts - such as the bun, cheese, and onion that you're putting on your "home-ground" beef all have more "ammonia" in them than the beef you're so scared of. Read the FACTS. Yes, this is trimmings. That means that it does initially have fat in it. However, that fat is taken out during a warming process, and used as tallow - leaving lean meat.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 8:14 AM

Well that was rude...For your information Chicken, I did start with google & none of the articles* I found stated anything referring to fecal matter. (that's why I asked what you had been reading so I could read it as well)

*by articles, I am referring to ones based on research, not someone's opinion.

-- Posted by patron on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 9:30 AM

Okay, Chicken -

You keep stating the "truth is out there." Find us an unbiased, research article. Post the link. I promise, I'll read it.

But I haven't been able to find one yet. Yes, beefisbeef IS BPI's website. The same company with that proven record of 30 years of food safety? I think you need to open YOUR eyes and look at the research, not the rhetoric.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 2:00 PM

This Chicken guy is just an agitator. I don't know why anyone pays any attention to him. (or her)

-- Posted by red dog on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 3:53 PM

In 1978-1980 my job at Banquet, was to stand in a combo of frozen vegetables and hand them to the guy running the mixer that made wait for it.....Chicken Pot pies!Even though the boots were never worn outside the combo and were disinfected before each use I am sure someone would throw a red flag on that today. Let me tell you jumping into my boots to go to breaks was not pleasant, nor was getting into the veggie boots. My feet never got warm all night. Today we operate with Haccp rules and regulations. There are checks and balances that help to eliminate bad practices in the food service industry.

-- Posted by meagain on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 5:22 PM


-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Thu, Mar 29, 2012, at 11:53 PM


I agree. There is nothing wrong with it all. We do have our beef processed, but I buy the rest of my meat - pork and chicken at the store. I am pleased with the quality and the taste of both. I do bake from scratch some, but not always, and am thankful I can save time on box mixes when needed. I have a garden and encourage others to do so, but its not really cost effective to grow our own vegetables. Still, though, you can't beat the taste of your own home grown produce!!! But the truth is not everybody has the time or the available space to grow their own food.

So for that, I am thankful for America's abundant food supply. I think it should be celebrated.


-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 9:04 AM

NanaDot - I agree, and I would LOVE to be able to do all that. But I work fulltime, as does my husband, and our yard is not big enough for a full scale garden. We certainly can't have cows or hogs in town, and no offense, but I'm not bringing chickens inside the house for the winter, which is what we'd have to do, because there's not room (or money) to build them a heated roost.

We garden what we can in containers in the summer, and we subscribe to a CSA as well. When available, we go in with other people to purchase a beef cow and have it processed.

But the upshot is, Ammonia Hydroxide gas IS safe for consumption as used in the food industry, based all the unbiased, researched-based information I could find. And Marcia's point that they allow it in Europe strengthens that thought, because they are waaaaay stricter over there than we are here.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 9:17 AM

my thoughts exactly cheetah...where will it end?

-- Posted by patron on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 10:06 AM

Yes, well, water itself, the lifeblood of humanity, can kill when ingested in sufficient quantities (see various radio stunts gone bad).

Ammonium hydroxide is Ammonia (a naturally occuring chemical compound) that is dissolved in water. Ammonium bicarbonate was commonly used in foods as a leavening agent (and still is in many countries, under the name hartshorn) prior to the availability of modern baking soda.

Baking soda, of course, is sodium bicarbonate - and is also frequently viewed as a cleaning agent.

The point is, in the quantities currently being used in "pink slime," ammonium hydroxide is safe. Like all things, excessive exposure leads to problems. So, really, how many times a week are you eating ground hamburger? How many times a week are you going to McDonald's? If the answer is more than 2 or 3, you've like got more health problems to deal with than the ammonium hydroxide.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 12:04 PM

Thank you guys for having a very intelligent, thoughtful discussion.

I really appreciate all the comments.

As I wrote, when we think of ammonia, we think of a cleaner. What we do not realize is ammonia is naturally present in all proteins, including beef. In fact,the human body naturally produces about 4,200 milligrams of ammonia every day. The process BPI uses is also used for a variety of other foods. It is used to kill bacteria and keep us safe, certainly not to harm us. Look at the company's safety record.

It really is no different than the chlorine which is used to treat our municipal water supply. It doesn't sound very good when we think of the same chlorine we clean with, but most of us understand that keeps our drinking water safe.


-- Posted by Marcia Gorrell on Fri, Mar 30, 2012, at 1:16 PM

Mostly vegetarian....ah yes, then you can stay safe by eating cantaloupe, sprouts, pine nuts, spinach, lettuce, and tomatoes. Oh wait.....

-- Posted by koeller77 on Sat, Mar 31, 2012, at 1:33 PM

Now THAT makes me sick, SC!

I think that BPI ought to also be suing both Jamie Oliver (who I cannot STAND) and Mr. Zirnstein for contributing to their downfall.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Mon, Apr 2, 2012, at 2:33 PM

koeller77, can't tell if you were being sarcastic to NanaDot or not but a person doesn't have to worry as much about getting sick from eating all those good things you mentioned if you buy local and/or grow them yourself.

Eat local food! Better yet, get those boots on and get those seeds in the ground. Get muddy, it's what's for dinner.

-- Posted by AnneD on Tue, Apr 3, 2012, at 10:30 AM

@AnneD, yes, I was being sarcastic.

Here is a company (BPI) that has a completely unblemished record of food safety. They're producing a product that make meat cheaper to buy AND leaner, and because people don't understand the chemistry, they've had to file bankruptcy.

NanaDot made the comment that we can feel the people by going "mostly vegetarian" - and the list of foods I gave are all vegetables & fruits with the MAJOR foodborne illness outbreaks in the last couple years.

Here's the problem, AnneD - I do try to buy local (attending the local farmer's market and through a CSA), but that doesn't fly in the winter. Also, I'd love to grow food - but I have very limited space & time to do so. We CANNOT feed the 7 billion people on the planet without larger farms and mass production of some of these foods. Given that, it's exceptionally frustrating to hear people attack a company with an impeccable record just because they don't understand chemistry. And yes, you DO have to worry about all those things if you buy local or grow your own food because the pathogens are in the soil and/or in the fertilizer.

-- Posted by koeller77 on Tue, Apr 3, 2012, at 1:32 PM

I would like to add that organtic foods were some of the culprits and at least two ecoli recalls on produce. Why is that you may ask? It is because the fertilizer used is manure, organtic old fashioned POO. Not washed properly the poo remains on the produce and volia you have an ecoli outbreak. Is this the fault of the producer or consumer? Sadly, in the end it becomes the responsibility of the producer, because the consumer did not wash the produce before use, thus causing some producers to go out of business.

A mostly vegan diet to me is like saying; I can't have coffee in the morning, unheard of in my house.

-- Posted by meagain on Wed, Apr 4, 2012, at 5:26 PM

Meagain- we don't go coffee free in our house either, LOL!

-- Posted by koeller77 on Wed, Apr 4, 2012, at 9:21 PM

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