Much ado has been about the recent hoopla over the foodstuff dubbed “pink slime” which is really something called “lean finely textured beef” by the USDA. This is a highly processed form of meat trimmings (not cuts) made up largely of the detritus that comes from breaking down a whole animal into its component parts (sinew, ligaments, and bits of gristle). These bits are then mixed with an ammonia-based gas (to preserve and rid of any pathogens or bacteria) and extruded into a fluffy pink form, which vaguely looks like something akin to the strawberry frozen yogurt one might find at a shopping mall food court. However, while similar in appearance, these two highly processed items should not be confused, and are certainly not interchangeable. The aforementioned “pink slime” is a truly versatile product, which can be turned into anything from hamburgers to taco filling, and is available everywhere from supermarkets to public schools, unbeknownst to consumers and hungry children.
Understandably people are pretty grossed-out by the new revelations about “pink slime” and are aghast that anything so revolting could find its way into their hamburgers (because this product is lean and inexpensive, producers often mix it into fattier meat to produce an overall leaner product), or their children’s school lunches. Even though Jamie Oliver made a very public condemnation of the product two years back with his reality TV show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” people are just now feeling the call to action and demanding to know more about the apparent ubiquity of this “pink slime.”
Numerous petitions have been signed and pressure is being put on individual school districts, as well as the USDA to put a stop to using “pink slime” as meat filler. The USDA claims that this product is utterly safe (well, it has been washed in ammonia) and allows up to 15 percent of a finished food item, like a hamburger or taco, to be made with the Lean Fine Textured Beef (AKA “pink slime”). But presumably under pressure from parents and disgusted consumers, the USDA announced that as of fall 2012 the National School Lunch Program would allow districts to electively choose ground beef that does not contain the product. As it stands, the USDA doesn’t currently require meat companies to state on the label whether ground beef (sold in stores or otherwise) includes trimmings and/or “pink slime”, and it was virtually impossible for schools to know whether the beef they purchased was chock full of “pink slime” or not.
So now the task to insure school lunches are slime-free rests in the hands of concerned parents and responsive school districts. This means that parents better start bending the ears of school administrators and school boards to clean up their local school lunches and bring some accountability back into the cafeteria. Parents, start making those phone calls.
As for the rest of us: if you routinely buy packaged and processed ground meat products, you are likely getting a generous serving of “pink slime” to go along with your meal (at least 15 percent by USDA estimates) and, at this point, there is no way of knowing whether what you purchase at the store is slime-filled or not (In January McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell said they would stop using Lean Finely Textured Beef in their ground beef dishes). For now, it will only be, at least potentially, the fast food loyalists and school children that will know for certain. But as the song says, “I believe children are the future…” but hopefully that future will be relatively devoid of pink slime, for all.