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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pink Slime Seems Impossible to Avoid

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 8:31 AM

click to enlarge A product shot of what Beef Products Inc. calls "lean beef" and others call "pink slime."
  • A product shot of what Beef Products Inc. calls "lean beef" and others call "pink slime."

Pink slime -- aka "lean finely textured beef," meat salvaged off the carcass through a process of heat, centrifuging, and ammonia-gassing -- is the bugaboo of the day, as impossible to avoid in the media as it apparently is in hamburgers. It's a story that hits most of the sustainable food movement's talking points: the unappetizing secrets behind many processed foods, the lengths to which the meat industry takes to keep costs low, the close ties between government and industry (the USDA undersecretary who allowed pink slime to become an unlabeled ingredient later made $1.2 million as a BPI board member). And the children! Think of the children.

While the USDA says that it will allow schools to opt out of buying the pink-slime-containing meat it supplies, Tom Philpott of Mother Jones points out that the USDA only supplies 20 percent of the meat used in school cafeterias, and the remaining 80 percent of cafeteria purchases are likely to come from suppliers who use the product. 

The Daily did a survey of major grocery stores and reported that, if you want to eliminate pink slime from your hamburger meat, Whole Foods and Costco are safe to buy ground beef from, but Safeway and Albertson's aren't. That's, of course, provided you also avoid pre-made chili, pepperoni, meatballs, taco meat, and dozens of other products that manufacturer BPI proudly claims lean finely textured beef is good in. (SFoodie's favorite section of the BPI website: a PDF titled "Ammonia: Essential for Life.")

What's a shopper to do? Eat less ground beef, perhaps, or shop at small-scale butcher stores like Drewes Brothers or Prather Ranch. Or, as one food scientist from Penn State argues, you could look at pink slime as an ecologically sensitive way to mine every edible morsel of meat off the animal. If you're going to give in to the inevitability of pink slime, however, you might want to come up with a better name for it.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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