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Pink Slime FAQ

It's not the slimiest food out there, but it's gross.

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school lunch tray

School cafeterias will soon have to option of serving foods without pink slime.

Tom Grill / Getty Images
Updated April 30, 2012

The USDA stands by the safety of lean, finely textured beef, a.k.a. "pink slime," so why are so many people against LFTB? The name, "pink slime," has a lot to do with it.

What is pink slime?

"Pink slime" is the common name given to lean, finely textured beef ("LFTB") that is salvaged from the fat trimmings after larger cuts of meat are taken off of a cow's carcass. The meat is then added into processed meat products such as cold cuts, sausages and ground beef.

How is pink slime made?

The first step to making pink slime is heating the fat trimmings from a cow so that the fat softens and will more easily separate from the muscle. The trimmings are then spun in a centrifuge to separate the fat from the meat. Next, the meat is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. The lean meat is frozen, pressed and mixed into other processed meats. Pink Slime recovers 10-12 pounds of meat from each animal.

Is it safe to eat pink slime?

Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, writes, "adding LFTB to ground beef does not make that ground beef any less safe to consume." Hagen does not address how safe it is to consume ground beef in the first place, but out of 7,000 pink slime samples provided to the USDA, not one has tested positive for salmonella or a fatal strain of e. coli. On the other hand, slimed or not, beef and chicken can be contaminated with pus, bile and feces, which can lead to food-borne illnesses like salmonella infections.

While ammonia has been used as a food additive in processed foods such as cheeses and puddings, its use in meat has alarmed the public in a new and viral way.

How can I avoid pink slime?

Going vegan or vegetarian of course will eliminate pink slime from one's diet. Avoiding ground beef and processed meats such as cold cuts, hot dogs, sausages or any processed foods containing ground beef would also help.

Is pink slime labeled?

As of this writing, the USDA does not require pink slime to be labeled, making it difficult to figure out which processed meat products include pink slime.

Pink slime in the news

The USDA has announced that schools that participate in the federal school lunch program will have the option of serving ground beef that is free of pink slime, beginning in the fall of 2012.

McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell have announced that they will no longer serve pink slime, while burger chain Wendy's states that they have never used pink slime.

Because of the recent public alarm over pink slime, AFA Foods, a pink slime manufacturer in Pennsylvania, has declared bankruptcy; three out of four Beef Products Inc. plants have also closed. Beef Products, Inc. is the company that invented the process for making pink slime.

Legislation

Congress is considering the Requiring Easy and Accurate Labeling of Beef (REAL Beef) Act, H.R. 4346, that would require foods containing pink slime to be labeled as such.

What's wrong with pink slime?

Pink slime opponents object to using ammonia to process the meat, while proponents argue that the ammonia has been used safely in other foods and makes the LFTB safer to eat by killing germs.

While the public is justified in their health concerns about a processed meat product, the real reason for the outrage is the name; the "yuck" factor. "Pink slime" just doesn't sound like something you'd want to eat in your hamburger, regardless of what it is or how it's made.

Pink slime and animal rights

The American Meat Institute estimates that an additional 1.5 million cattle per year would have to be slaughtered to produce the same amount of beef that comes from pink slime. This figure has caused some to argue that vegetarians should support pink slime in order to save 1.5 million cattle annually. While maximizing the use of the whole animal might save some animal lives, the point of animal rights is not just to save animal lives but to challenge a system that devalues, exploits and enslaves the animals. Supporting pink slime does nothing to further animal rights and would serve to further entrench animal exploitation.

Pink slime does, however, have many animal rights activists talking, since it's yet another reason to go vegan.

Animal rights proponents object to any kind of animal products, regardless of how they are produced or how the animals are raised. Concerns about health or the "yuck" factor of meat are additional reasons to go vegan.

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