In the Spring of 2012, parents around the U.S. found out that the USDA buys around 7 million pounds of a lean finely textured beef product—better known as "pink slime"—for use in the national school lunch program. The pink slime beef gets its nickname from the unnatural color that emerges after it's bathed in ammonium hydroxide. The fact that even some fast-food restaurants reject this meat-like product alarmed many, and when subsequently given the choice, many schools opted not to serve it to their students.
As time has passed, however, budget cuts have forced school cafeterias in some states to quietly reinstate the pink slime. "As of Sept. 3, seven states put in orders to the USDA for about 2 million pounds of beef that may contain the controversial product for the meals they serve in the 2013-14 school year," Politico reports. "At this time last year there were only three states—Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota—that had put in orders for beef that may contain lean finely textured beef."
Although the pink slime is 3 percent cheaper than real ground beef—a discount that adds up when you're feeding 31 million school children a day—the safety risks may outweigh the benefit. According to the New York Times, "...E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-room trays."
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