Tuesday, March 27, 2012

is “Pink Slime” Just an Eye Grabbing Beefy Headline?

Have you heard the latest food crisis?  If it hadn’t been for school children, we’d never know.  You must have read about this hot debate, brought to the public by two former scientists from the US Department of Agriculture, in an ABC program. 

According to the news, school kids get more than 100% ground beef in burgers.  Some meat sold to schools contains a product now referred to as “pink slime,” which we’re told is fatty bits and pieces of leftover beef, marinated with ammonia hydroxide.

It is manufactured by Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) and called ‘lean finely textured beef’ aka LFTB in the trade.   According to the company website, http://www.beefproducts.com/, they’ve been in business since 1981.  The CEO is hopping mad at what he sees as an unfair smear campaign.  He says the beef is pink because it is pink.  It is made of meat and “trimmings” and not bits of fatty parts that are left over.

I still remember the smell of my school dining room and cringe.  Meat doused in ammonia hydroxide doesn’t seem like it would be good for kids, but it meets federal food standards, according to the American Meat Institute (AMI).   Scary, huh?   Americans heard about it and had a fit. The outcome: the US Department of Agriculture decided that school districts can stop using LFTB meat.

Recently I heard several retailers, including Albertson’s and Safeway, which operate locally, are pulling this beef off shelves.  Say what?  You mean we’ve all been eating this stuff, not just kindergarteners?  Then I became upset.  I wander who is still selling this stuff now.  I don’t know if I want to eat it. 

However, I looked at an article recommended by the company’s CEO at the BPI website http://beefisbeef.com/.    I thought the meat was doused in the type of ammonia you find in window cleaners or hair dyes.  But, according to the American Meat Institute, (in the article), it is composed of ammonia and water and has been used safely since 1974.  Ammonia hydroxide is used in other food products.   Also, BPI was awarded a prestigious award from the International Association of Food Protection http://www.foodprotection.org/publications/iafp-report/#, for food safety in 2007.  A look at this website does not pull up information on LFTB and the use of ammonia chloride, but one article talks about other disinfecting compounds used. 

According to the National Institute of Health definition, (see their website at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002491.htm,) “Ammonium hydroxide is found in many industrial products and cleaners such as flooring strippers, brick cleaners, and cements.  Ammonium hydroxide can also release ammonia gas into the air.”

There is a media war.  ABC, the channel that released the story, is accused of using a scare tactic to draw in public attention.  A couple of articles, one in the New York Times, states they are promoting hysteria.  Some point out that the chemical compound is used to prevent such horrible food borne illnesses and bacterium as E-Coli.  BFI states it has to cut production and is closing plants and will need to lay off workers due to the negative publicity.

When a new health scare comes out, we’re initially alarmed.  If you’re like me, you’ve become jaded.  One day coffee and eggs are good for you, the next they are killers.  You never know what’s going to make a test mouse ill.  It’s hard to know what to believe.  You just can’t believe what you read or hear in the media. 

Media can give you bits and pieces of a story, and use some truth, without giving you all the facts and relevant information.  It is up to you to research and inspect and compare the facts through reputable sources.  Happy reading and enjoy that hamburger!

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