Generally anything slimy is pretty gross, so the idea of something called pink slime in your food is really gross. Well, get ready to gag: unless you’re a vegetarian, you’ve probably eaten pink slime.
So what is pink slime, and why are you hearing so much about it now?
It’s not a girly version of the green Nickelodeon gunk, that’s for sure. “Pink slime” is a term given to fatty bits of beef that are left over from other cuts of meat. The bits are processed together–heated and spun to remove any excess fat, then exposed to ammonia gas to kill any bacteria and nasty food borne illnesses, like salmonella and E. coli, that can make you sick. Part of why the meat has to be treated with ammonia to begin with is because it’s from the parts of cows that are closest to the skin (and to their poop), making them the most likely to get contaminated. Yuck!
Beef manufacturers have been making this stuff pretty much forever, but until recently it was just called “lean, finely textured beef.” It’s generally cheaper than other types of chopped (mince) meat. It earned the name “pink slime” from a former U.S. government scientist named Gerald Zirnstein, who thought it was pretty disgusting and called it that in a private email–that wound up going public. (Yikes!) An alternative to treating meat with ammonia is to use citric acid (the stuff in lemons, limes, and oranges), which more companies are looking into in light of the controversy.
In December 2011, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell announced that they’d stop using beef products that were treated with ammonia, and a lot of grocery stores have either stopped carrying it or began carrying beef products explicitly without pink slime. Thing is, estimates say roughly 50% of more of chopped beef in America contains pink slime, with some guessing it may be as much as 70%, especially in (gulp) hamburger meat.
Is it all that bad, though? The USDA has said that it’s safe for consumption, and based on the stats above, most people have probably eaten it and not even known or minded, and alternatives to ammonia-treated meat are more expensive–and since our economy isn’t doing so hot, some companies are more keen on saving cash to keep employees working than to raise costs and have to lay people off. One company in particular, Beef Products, Inc., has taken some real hits following the media frenzy over pink slime.
Starting this fall, the USDA will allow schools to choose whether or not they want to use ammonia-treated beef in its kitchens and cafeterias–so if you’ve been eating mystery meat in your burgers, you may not need to worry (if you even were to begin with).
Do you think meat with pink slime should be taken off shelves? Has your school served food with pink slime in it? Do you think it’s not a big deal? Sound off in the comments!