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Separating facts from propaganda surrounding 'pink slimePosted 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.
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