Pink Slime, also called lean finely textured beef (LFTB) or boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT), has been around for a long time before the public heard about it.
The term was coined in 2002 by Gerald Zirnstein, a former USDA scientist, in an internal email. In 2009, when the New York Times published an article about the fast food industry, and later in an article in the newspaper, the name was released and the controversy started. Consumers are asking questions about how food is being made, what they are eating, and what exactly is on the food labels.
The key debate is the use of ammonia in processing foods. LFTB is made from the leftover meat trimmings that would otherwise be discarded, separated from the fat with a centrifuge and sprayed with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. Because this is a part of the process, not part of the final product, the use of ammonia hydroxide does not need to be printed on the labels.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined in 1974 that ammonia in foods was not harmful. It is on their list of foods “Generally Recognized as Safe,” defined as not problematic for human consumption in the amounts they are currently used in. Most consumers associate ammonia with the cleaning product.
Beef Products, Inc. has received so much criticism for ammonium hydroxide that three out of four of their processing plants closed. The lesser demand shows that consumers are worried about their food, but big business does not agree. The company received the Black Pearl Award in 2007 for, among other things, advancing food safety.
In 2004, the company was honored the Food Quality Award, which recognizes product safety in relation to a positive impact on business results. Beef Products, Inc also published a list of foods that contain ammonia on their website. The compound turns up naturally in some dairy products, such as milk. It is used in cheeses to take away some acidity, found in baked goods, gelatins, chocolate, caramels, and puddings.
Other companies are being called forward as well, such as the Hershey chocolate company, Kellogg, and ConAgra, producer of Wonder Bread and Chef Boyardee. Kraft Foods admits to using ammonia compounds in some of their products, though the company will not say which ones.
Pink slime has some benefits. The beef industry employs thousands of workers. LFTB may actually be safer than regular ground beef because of the way it is treated, which removes bacteria, as opposed to untreated beef, which has caused outbreaks of mad cow disease, e. coli and salmonella. Pink slime makes beef cheaper, available to all families struggling with income, and leaner, containing less fat.
Many experts agree that without the name “pink slime,” the scare would not be so huge. Yet, the fact is, worse practices are being conducted in the beef and poultry industries that consumers don’t know about. The pink slime debate is just the tip of the iceberg.