- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
School officials said last week that none of its school lunch beef contains an ammonia-treated meat filler known as “pink slime.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced recently that due to “customer demand,” the department will allow schools to order beef either with or without lean finely textured beef. This follows a public campaign and news coverage of what some call “pink slime,” a meat filler used in ground beef but not acknowledged on labels.
The USDA continued to affirm the safety of the process and resulting beef product, according to the statement.
According to the USDA, the process to create what it calls “lean finely textured beef” involves combining normally unusable fat and meats, which are centrifuged to separate the fat and produce a product that is 90 percent lean meat. Companies use ammonium hydroxide, usually in the form of a gas, to raise the pH and kill any pathogens that may be found in the beef trimmings.
The process was approved by USDA in the 1990s.
“A lot of this is just coming out,” Mike Jones, supervisor of food and nutrition, said recently. “Apparently, there is both a procedure and a product that the USDA has endorsed.”
After a parent inquiry, he asked the three beef suppliers used by St. Mary’s public schools to disclose whether or not they used the lean finely textured beef and the antibacterial process associated with it.
By last week, Jones had confirmed that none of the three suppliers use the pink slime beef filler.
Silver Springs Farm in a letter said it does not use finely textured beef or ammonia hydroxide in any of its beef products.
SFI Holdings, Culinary Standards said it does not use ammonia hydroxide in its beef processing nor does it purchase raw materials from beef suppliers that use it.
The third supplier, AdvancePierre Foods, said this in a letter: “Even though the process of using ammonia hydroxide to manufacture [lean finely textured] beef is approved by the USDA and has been proven to be wholesome and safe, AdvancePierre Foods made the decision not to purchase ammonia-treated beef for use in our school products.”
Jones said this type of processed beef is used in some school systems and also could be in some of the ground beef on grocery shelves.
“My intent would be to stay away from using any product like that that is questionable, Jones said when asked if the school system would avoid the ammonia-treated meat in the future.
Maura Maupin, a parent of three, said she was concerned that her children in public school may be eating the ammonia-treated meat without being told about it.
“I want to know where they purchase it from,” she said, adding that it is hard to trust since the specially processed meat is not included on any food labels.
She said she first heard about the process and the pink slime when watching the movie Food, Inc. “When I first saw it, it looked like ice cream, pink soft serve ice cream,” she said. “That’s just nasty.”
She said that when she thought about how that processed meat might be served at her children’s school lunches, she contacted school administrators. Maupin said parents and others should have a right to know what is in the food they eat, including chemicals used in processing.
“Non-disclosure is not an option,” she said. “It should be transparent.”
She also checked in with Patuxent River Naval Air Station’s commissary, where she buys beef for her home. She said that the Defense Commissary Agency posted a notice last week that the military commissaries do not use the lean finely textured beef, but then revised that posting and said it may use some beef from this process
The update acknowledged the beef ground in commissaries may be sourced from multiple suppliers, and that at least two of those suppliers do use the process. The updated statement points out that the process has been approved by the USDA and Food and Drug Administration for decades and that it is safe.
“Because this approved manufacturing process does not introduce any adulterants or contaminants and actually reduces the levels of harmful bacteria, our suppliers are under no obligation to disclose it to us,” according to the statement, which is attributed to U.S. Army Col. Michael A. Buley, director of the Defense Commissary Agency public health and safety.
The statement says that customers can choose to buy USDA organic ground beef or USDA all-natural ground beef, which are not produced using the process. All commissaries are to have at least one of those products available.
The American Meat Institute, a trade association for the fresh meat industry, reports that the use of this antibacterial process has contributed to a 55 to 60 percent decrease in the occurrence of E. coli, according to the Defense Commissary Agency statement. The process also cuts down on waste of beef.
The beef industry has taken issue with the product being referred to as pink slime, a term coined some years ago. Along with lean finely textured beef, it is also referred to as boneless lean beef trim and rendered fat byproduct additive or filler.
“USDA only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable — including all products containing lean finely textured beef,” according to last week’s press release. “However, due to customer demand, the department will be adjusting procurement specifications for the next school year so schools can have additional options in procuring ground beef products. USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without lean finely textured beef.”
The USDA sets national nutritional guidelines for school meals and school districts make local decisions on what food to feed children to meet these guidelines. On average, schools in the National School Lunch Program purchase approximately 20 percent of their food through USDA, and approximately 80 percent of food served is purchased directly by schools or school districts through private vendors.