2012-03-28 / Fields & Yields

Should you have a beef with “pink slime?”

By Terri Black Burke Co. Extension Agent

The most recent food technology to make headlines is the process of separating lean meat from the fat in beef trimmings to create lean finely textured beef (LFTB). Although this is not a new process, recent television shows and media reports have brought it into the spotlight, dubbing the product “pink slime” due to its very fine texture and pale pink color.

Lean finely textured beef is 100 percent lean beef and, like all meat, is strictly regulated and inspected on a daily basis by the US Department of Agriculture. These inspectors ensure that meats are processed in a clean, safe environment. Many reports have stated that the trimmings used to make LFTB were previously considered inedible, but this is not true.

When beef carcasses are processed into the cuts of meat that we are accustomed to seeing in stores, additional fat is trimmed to make a leaner product. Often, these trimmings contain lean meat that is too difficult to separate from the fat by hand. In an effort to be more efficient and reduce food waste, a process was developed to easily accomplish this task. As trimmings are warmed, the fat begins to liquefy, which separates it from the meat. The meat which remains is approximately 95% lean, and is frequently mixed with regular ground beef to reduce the total fat content. According to the American Meat Institute, the process used to make LFTB is very similar to the one used to separate cream from milk.

To reduce the levels of bacteria in the product, LFTB is treated in one of two ways. In one method, a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas raises the pH of the product, making it less hospitable to bacteria. This procedure is credited with helping to reduce the levels of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef by 55% over the past decade. Ammonium hydroxide has been declared safe by the Food and Drug Administration since 1974 and is used in the production of many common food products. Another method uses citric acid to accomplish the same goal.

Since LFTB is a 100 percent beef product, there are no labeling requirements. The only way to know if the ground beef you are purchasing contains LFTB is to do your research. I would encourage you to make well-informed decisions about that food that you eat every day. Be sure, however, to use responsible, reputable sources to gain this information, and avoid sensational media reports that rarely tell the whole story.

As a consumer and an educator, as well as a beef producer, I am proud of our farmers and of advances in food technology. In our country, producers and processors work to provide safe and efficient methods for providing the cheapest, safest, and most abundant food supply in the world.

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