If you have not heard the term “pink slime” in the past few weeks then you've not been watching national news programs, reading the front page of the paper, or listening to the radio. The headlines are disturbing and shocking even if not all together truthful, “USDA buys Pink Slim beef for school lunches”, “Let's have pink slime for lunch!”, or our personal favorite “Grocery Stores are partners in slime!”.
Pink slime is a product usually labeled as Beef Lean Beef Trim, or Lean Beef Trim. Lean Beef Trim (LBT) is added to fresh ground beef in the vast majority of processed ground beef products, such as ground beef used in processed frozen foods (tacos, burritos, and pizza), boxed frozen hamburgers, and many other products. It is also included as an additive (up to 25%) to lean up fresh ground beef sold in chubs (tube meat) by national producers such as Tyson, Excel, and National to grocery stores (who sell it as fresh ground beef in packs and out of their case) and to restaurants who hand patty the tube meat into hamburgers.
National statistics support that about 70% of the grocery's in the US sell hamburger that contains LBT. You will more likely find it in trays, in the pre-wrapped meat sections versus the fresh meat case, but more often than not it appears in both areas. The USDA approves this product as safe, but does not require it's labeling. ABCNews did a story two weeks ago on this product and stated that the “lack of a labeling requirement continues despite objections from USDA scientists”.
The number one producer of LBT is Beef Products Inc. or BPI. Lean Beef Trim is made when trimmings from steaks, chucks, and other trim from multiple steers are ground together in one lump sum of ground trim. That lump sum of ground trim isn't really usable for food products as it's fat content is upwards of 50%. So to make it usable, the ground beef is cooked at very low temperatures, and goes through a centrifuge process (similar to separating cream from milk) that divides the lighter fat from the more dense lean beef. The resulting Lean Beef Trim takes on a softer consistency than natural beef due to the process.
Once the Lean Beef Trim is divided from the fat, it still has an issue. Because it comes from multiple steers and has been handled and moved multiple times, it is at an increased risk of contamination from E.coli and other bacteria. In most countries, the Lean Beef Trim would be irradiated at this point to eliminate or decrease the meats bacterial content. Irradiation was approved in the US over 10 years ago, but due to protests from consumer groups has not really taken root.
Instead, LBT is squeezed through a tube about the size of a pencil and briefly exposed to an Ammonia gas. The combination of pressure, water in the LBT, and the Ammonia gas forms Ammonium Hydroxide a substance that increases the pH of the mixture, lowering the acidity of the LBT, and effectively killing the bacteria present in the meat to render it safe for consumption. The resulting pH of 10 is 1000 times more basic than water (pH of 7). The process also leaves a pink hue, when combined with the needed water content results in the name “pink slime”.
To give you an idea of common items with pH's of near 10, Baking Soda solution has a pH of 8.5, toothpaste 9.9, Milk of Magnesia 10, while Household Ammonia has a pH near 12.
Here is a link to ph of common naturally occurring foods:
So now that you have the statistical facts, what does all this mean?
Using all the edible parts of steers makes sense but to do so requires the combining of different animals and the absolute need for food safety precautions. The USDA approves and endorses LBT as 100% safe so you won't see it leaving your grocery and restaurant food supply soon.
From an intellectual standpoint we at Joe's fully understand the arguments presented by the beef industry on the intelligent use of LBT. Consumer demands for beef and the high cost of raising, storing, and producing only all natural beef products simply is not practical when figuring out how to feed a hungry world. Also, Ammonium Hydroxide is used in other food products such as baked goods to keep them safe.
However from day one, we at Joe's made a pledge to NEVER sell processed, pre-ground beef, tube ground beef, or “cow roulette” as Fritz calls it. It's a product we are not interested in supporting. Not only is the LBT issue present, but nearly all major ground beef recalls for E.Coli involve processed “cow roulette” tube grinds.
– NEVER AT JOE's!
We grind our beef several times a day from only whole pieces of chuck, round and beef loin. We produce our ground beef in our chilled meat room (35 degrees) to ensure your safety. We form our beef patties from this same ground beef under the same environmentally controlled conditions as our grind. Our board of health approved sanitation procedures do not change the pH of our meats.
In summary, we believe the entire “pink slime” crisis, albeit a bit overblown by the media, is an issue that must be dealt with by grocers, restaurant owners, and consumers. We hope the facts we presented give you as a consumer, information on which to make intelligent choices.
But when you have responsible sources who can provide pure beef products at competitive prices is there really a choice?
Shop at Joe's and relax by the grill! Our ground beef is “pink slime” free and the best in all of Central Indiana and we stake our reputation on it!
BTW: Worried about your restaurant burger? Remember that Joe's provides burgers and pork from our fresh, all natural line of proteins to local establishments like Dooley O'Tooles, and Muldoon's ! So don't worry about making your St. Patricks Day “pink”, spend local and eat with confidence with our friends here in Carmel!