ground beef

There are far too many questionable ingredients hidden in industrialized meat and dairy products. But credit chef Jamie Oliver for bringing one gross factor to critical mass: Pink Slime. The unfortunate-but-accurately-nicknamed controversial beef filler product—so heinous that McDonald’s won’t even touch it—struck a national nerve when news broke that 7 million pounds of the stuff was heading directly to school lunch programs across the country.

And then, a report found that 70 percent of supermarket ground beef samples showed traces of the slime, further conflating outrage and concern. The crisis has caused Beef Products, Inc, the manufacturer of pink slime to temporarily cease production in all but one of its facilities as the company looks for ways to keep producing what they call “Lean Finely Textured Beef.” But are concerns about this product really warranted? How bad could the stuff really be?  

It’s true that McDonald’s and other fast-food chains have pledged not to use LFTB products in their restaurants. Typically, the remnants of meat stuck to connective tissue and carcasses find their way into pet food. But that was until BPI began using a technique that could pick a carcass clean of any lingering “meat,” mash it up, remove the fat, and then, essentially, burn all the bacteria out and sell it as filler to beef producers.

To do this, though, they use ammonium hydroxide. As in, Lysol.

Ammonium hydroxide is also known as ammonia or ammonia solution. It’s basically watered down ammonia, and in the case of BPI, the gas is added to the sludge of beef, connective tissue and other scraps of cow. While the FDA grants ammonia GRAS status (generally regarded as safe), the product is highly toxic—and can even be fatal if ingested. It’s found in literally hundreds of household products from those Lysol aerosol spray can disinfectants to hair dye, shaving cream, soap and makeup. And, it’s also routinely added to dozens of other foods from chocolates and baked goods like cakes and bread, to processed cheese, pudding and gelatin, reportedly to reduce the risk of bacterial outbreaks. But, food borne illnesses are on the rise, not decreasing. And without labeling requirements on products like meat and dairy, consumers don’t have much of a choice—or a clue—when purchasing these items for their families.

Want to avoid added ammonia in your diet? Stick with organic, especially when it comes to meat, eggs or dairy, and avoid highly processed and fast foods.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Resources:

http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=chem

http://business.financialpost.com/2012/03/22/food-born-illnesses-on-the-rise-in-the-u-s/

http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/r?dbs+hsdb

http://beefproducts.com/ammonium_hydroxide.php

http://www.ajcn.org/content/26/5/487.abstract

Image: BobPetUK