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What’s the Beef? Concerns About School Lunch Meat Known as ‘Pink Slime’

By Nirvi Shah — March 09, 2012 1 min read
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture is under fresh scrutiny for allowing beef product dubbed “pink slime” in school lunches.

In a story in The Daily earlier this week, former USDA food inspectors discussed visiting a Beef Products Inc. production facility in 2002. Of what he saw, microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein told The Daily he did not “consider the stuff to be ground beef.”

One description of the product from Iowa State University, is “a lean product
derived from beef-fat trimmings...while it is high in total protein, the LFTB contains more serum and connective tissue proteins and less myofibrillar proteins than muscle meat.”

But whatever the product is made of isn’t the whole reason why the product has raised concerns. Another is that it is treated with ammonium hydroxide to prevent some strains of E. coli and salmonella.

The USDA has found that “ammonium hydroxide is effective in reducing the presence of harmful bacteria in raw beef, especially E. coli O157:H7, when used appropriately.” Beef Products Inc. has a video on its website about ammonia in foods.

Three years ago, a story in The New York Times raised questions about the effectiveness of the use of ammonia in curbing the spread of E. coli and salmonella.

“All USDA ground beef purchases must meet the highest standards for food safety,” the agency said in a statement. “USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce that we have confidence are safe.”

Of the nearly 112 million pounds of ground beef contracted for the National School Lunch Program, 7 million pounds, about 6.5 percent, are made by Beef Products Inc. No more than 15 percent of a student’s ground beef dish would ever be made of the company’s Lean Fine Textured Beef. In addition, 80 percent of food products served in the National School Lunch Program is bought by schools or districts, not the USDA.

And the agency has been working to drastically improve the quality and nutritional content of school meals.

Still, school lunch blogger Bettina Siegel has begun a petition asking the USDA to stop allowing Beef Products Inc.'s product in school lunches.

So far, she reports, there are more than 12,000 signatures.

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