Pink Slime: What Is It and Why Are You Eating It?

If you’re not familiar with pink How to make slime, or lean, finely textured beef (LFTB), here’s a brief description. Trimmings from beef are mechanically separated to produce a product that looks somewhat like ground beef and is about 95% lean and 5% fat. This product is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens, then frozen in bricks and distributed to retailers who mix it in a 15/85 ratio with ground beef. While it is not approved for sale as beef by itself, when mixed with ground beef it is labeled as 100% beef. It is estimated that as much as 70% of beef sold to consumers contains LFTB.

Craig Letch, director of food safety and quality assurance at Beef Products, Inc., the worlds largest producer of LFTB, says the LFTB starts as fat trimmings from roasts and steaks and is about 50% lean, 50% fat. The trimmings are run through a centrifuge to separate the lean beef from the fat. The resulting product is roughly 95% lean beef and resembles ground beef. Because any contaminates in ground beef are mixed in and not on the surface as they are with steaks, roasts, or other cuts of meat, cooking is not as reliable a method to sanitize the beef. The LFTB is treated with ammonium hydroxide to elevate the PH to kill any bacteria contained in the LFTB. Ammonium hydroxide is a natural product, which, according to Letch, makes no lasting changes to the beef.

The reality is that pink slime contains, in addition to trimmings from steaks and roasts, cartilage, connective tissue, and any other part of the cow that makes it into the centrifuge. This can include digestive and intestinal matter, bone fragments, and organs. Expecting pink slime to contain only remnants from steaks and roasts is idealistic but not at all realistic. According to retired microbiologist Carl Custer, a 35-year veteran of the Food Safety Inspection Service, “We looked at the product [LFTB] and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Ammonium hydroxide, used to sterilize the LFTB, is the result of dissolving ammonia in water. It is found in many industrial products and cleaners such as flooring strippers, brick cleaners, and cements. Symptoms of exposure to ammonium hydroxide are: difficulty breathing; coughing; swelling of the throat; wheezing; severe pain in the throat; severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue; loss of vision; blood in the stool; burns of the esophagus and stomach; vomiting, possibly with blood; collapse; low blood pressure; sever change in pH; burns; holes in skin tissue; irritation. The levels of ammonium hydroxide found in our food are arguably very small, but it doesn’t seem to be something we should be spraying our food with, does it?


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