Pink Slime: Fact vs. Fiction
There has been much in the news lately about “pink slime”. It sounds disgusting! But what is it really? Other names for this product are “Lean finely textured beef” or LFTB and “Boneless lean beef trimmings”. You may have heard some in the news saying this is actually beef. Well, in reality, it is. Let’s take a look at how it’s made.
Think of eating a steak with a layer of fat around the edge. You can cut that fat off with a knife, but there is always some meat still attached to the fat. This is similar to the meat cutting process in butchering cattle. The large cuts of meat are easy to cut, but there is always some meat left with the fat. This can be considered wasteful, so what can you do with it?
The makers of the LFTB take this leftover meat/fat and heat it to about 100 degrees to soften the fat. Then they spin it at high speed to separate the meat from the fat. What is left is about 90-95% fat free meat…beef! This process actually adds about 850 million more pounds of beef into our food supply every year, rather than going to waste.
It does have a finer texture than what we normally think of as ground beef, but some studies have indicated mixing some LFTB (10-15%) with regular ground beef actually improves the texture of the cooked product.
Studies have also shown that adding LFTB to regular ground beef improves the safety of the ground beef. One of the issues people have with LFTB is that ammonia is used in processing it. This has been greatly misunderstood. So here’s the truth.
The LFTB can be susceptible to bacterial contamination during processing. However, regular ground beef is at higher risk too because of processing. In the case of LFTB, to decrease the risk, the meat is treated with a puff of ammonia gas. This kills the bacteria on the meat because it comes in contact with the moisture naturally in the meat and forms ammonium hydroxide. This raises the pH of the meat and kills the bacteria. Ammonium hydroxide is a compound found naturally in many foods as well as the human body. So it is a completely safe process. Many other foods are also treated in this way to improve their safety.
Finally, what about the nutritional value of LFTB? Well, it is almost identical to that of 90% lean ground beef. It is a good source of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins…just like other beef products. Keep in mind though that Nutrition professionals recommend people eat a variety of protein foods, and that red meat, like beef, should not be eaten every day. However, lean beef can be part of an overall healthy diet. One needs to also remember that an appropriate serving size of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, and most people only need 2-3 servings of meat or other protein foods (poultry, fish, nuts, eggs, beans) each day.
For more information, check out the “Top 7 Myths of “Pink Slime” by Gary Stauffer of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln Cooperative Extension Service. Also, the US Department of Agriculture has good accurate information, as do several universities. For this article, I used the following: from Penn State (http://live.psu.edu/story/58528) and from the University of Arkansas (http://newswire.uark.edu/Article.aspx?id=17999).