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Pink Slime. You Know, For Kids.

January 4, 2010
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The holidays are always a busy time. It’s time spent with family. Sometimes there is travel involved. And with that, some of the news of the day can fall through the cracks. Perhaps the news of Patrick Stewart’s impending knighthood was completely overlooked.

And maybe you missed a more pertinent article in the New York Times revealing the details of a disturbing meat processing method.

I would encourage you to read the article in its entirety. Especially if you have kids, and especially if they eat school lunches. You should also read it if you buy pre-packaged ground beef or products containing ground beef products at the supermarket.  If you eat the occasional hamburger from McDonald’s, well, you should read the article too.

As luck would have it, I don’t fall into any of those groups.  Yet still I read the article.  And while I didn’t think it was possible to be more appalled at the shenanigans afoot within the food industry, they keep on finding new ways to surprise me.

Here’s the executive summary.

1) Cow carcasses get processed in giant factories.
2) When cow poop gets on stuff, it gets on the outsides of carcasses.
3) That creates a lot of dangerous bacteria that humans shouldn’t eat.
4) In the past these parts, the fatty trimmings, have been used as pet food.
5) Now thanks to modern science these parts area edible again.

That part kind of sounds okay.  We don’t want to be wasting food.  If the new process makes it safe, what’s the big deal?

6) The process treats the beef with ammonia.
7) This kills E. coli and salmonella.
8) The fat is then liquefied.
9) The liquid is run through a centrifuge.
10) Voila. New “safe” ground beef is available for human consumption.

First, yuck. Second, I was waiting for the article to say how the ammonia is then taken out of the meat. And I waited. And waited. But it’s not. And ammonia isn’t listed as an ingredient in the beef, because the government agreed with the company that the chemical is just a processing agent.

Funny, then, that a purchaser of the meat sent back a large quantity because of the strong ammonia smell it detected from the meat in its frozen state. The client, by the way, was the food service operation at a prison.

This meat is scary stuff.

The ammoniated meat can be mixed with other meat, and kill bacteria in the untreated meat. That is stunning. So much so that I do not want it in my body.  And I don’t want it in my child’s developing body.

Someone in the government thought it was misleading to call this product ground meat.  Rather they coined the phrase, “pink slime.”  And it’s a rational argument.  A reasonable consumer would believe that ground meat was at one point solid meat, which was then actually put through a grinder.

And this is only just the beginning.

Because at the end of the day, the company that invented this stomach-turning process in order to make inexpensive food safe at a microbial level, even failed there.

The whole thing makes me think of a acronym I learned once, GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.

In this case, I’d call discarded bacteria-laden scraps of meat garbage. But we’ve seen these kinds of shenanigans before. Downer cows (animals too sick to walk into the slaughterhouse) have been carried into plants to make it into the food supply. Cows, herbivores by nature, were bulked up in feedlots by being fed animal byproducts.

Going into a new year, this is a good reminder to be mindful about what you eat.  And if you eat ground meat, you may want to look for restaurants that grind their own.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2010 12:19 pm

    I think everyone should go read (or re-read) both “The Jungle” and “Fast Food Nation.” Scary stuff — but what’s perhaps the scariest to me is the surprising lack of fundamental differences between the two eras portrayed in the books.

  2. Rhea permalink
    January 4, 2010 1:09 pm

    Pardon me while I (vomit). Sorry to be gross, but this IS gross. Ammonia in burger meat to treat E Coli, but it doesn’t accomplish the task and now we’re eating both? To your point, I’m usually not eating those meat products, but my family and friends are and I’m disturbed for them. I second Jess’ “The Jungle” recommendation. Haven’t gotten to “Fast Food Nation” yet, sounds like it could be interesting to compare with the former.

  3. Ellen Whitby permalink
    January 4, 2010 10:43 pm

    Lucky for me, I’m enjoying an ice cream treat that contains (as far as I know) no ammonia and no ground beef. If it does, I’m not sure I want to know. I have some questions for you.

    1. Is there this kind of yuckiness in ground poultry as well?

    2. Does this same thing happen in the kosher meat industry?

    3. Do other countries have this “problem”?

  4. brownie permalink
    January 5, 2010 3:05 pm

    I’m all for processed food, but that’s pretty crappy. Sounds like someone took the day off or the payoff on this one.

    It would be very awesome if they continued to market it as “USDA-Approved Pink Slime” on your grocer’s shelf. I bet it would enjoy a healthy turnover at half price.

  5. January 5, 2010 10:50 pm

    This was featured in the film Food, Inc. The only thing more disturbing than the cleaning chemicals being served in beef was the inventor’s pride in his development of this ammonia. He seemed very proud and excited about his contribution to the meat packing industry. Scary stuff.

  6. January 6, 2010 2:07 pm

    Ew, ew, ew.

    I’m grateful that I long ago made the decision not to let my children eat school lunch. Even my 15 year old still brings lunch from home. Lucky too that I do not fall into any of the categories you mentioned. Still disturbing. Still disgusting.

    On top of the books already recommended (which I second) I would recommend My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Oh, and Chew on This which is Fast Food Nation for kids.

    And don’t be afraid to plop your kids down in front of Fast Food Nation (the movie) and let them see for themselves how disgusting eating fast food is.

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