In the news has been reports that a recent ruling “allowed” school lunches to remove ground beef made with “pink slime” but only provided it was bought in particularly large lumps (IIRC it was 5 lb chubs or some such. This matters as it means you can’t buy a patty ready to fry into a hamburger) and the USDA was goig to “allow” that exception.
Well, my first thought was “What in the hell is the USDA doing dictating what can and can’t be served in a local school?”. Followed closely by “Why are they advocating ‘pink slime’ in anything?” (Realizing it was clearly a pejorative term cooked up for some other actual jargon). That was followed by “What IS ‘pink slime’?” and then a few more thoughts best left out.
I’m not particularly worried about it, as I generally avoid beef these days. ( It gives me arthritic joints if I have more than about a pound a week or have it more than 2 or 3 times in a week.) Also, my kids are out of school now and generally had ‘normal’ food when they were. But still, what was this stuff? The news blurb just said it contained some unknown quantity of ammonia…
Well, I found a reasonable source that describes it. The short form is that it’s a finely pureed ooze of animal parts (connective tissue et. al.) that’s warmed to separate fats from proteins (at a temperature that would make bacteria just love it… about 100 F) and then treated with doses of Ammonia to kill bacteria via a pH excursion.
OK, right up front, I’m not interested in eating ANYTHING that’s been made from raw meat, digested at 100 F, and then pickled in Ammonia to try and kill of the bugs. There’s just so many ways that could go wrong AND it’s pretty clear it will not be improving the flavor and quality. So, check the labels? Nope, it need not be put on the label.
Sigh. No labeling, snuck into food, mandated by the USDA, made from what ought to go into the dog food line. And folks wonder why I tend to only eat cuts of meat that have an identifiable shape… So we’ve made it illegal for a regular old small town butcher to buy an animal from a local farm and cut it up on a wooden butcher block (as was done when I was a kid, and of which I’ve eaten hundreds or thousands of pounds…) but can mandate ‘pink slime’ off label. This is just so wrong, in so many ways.
FWIW, there are many other “off label” things. Carbon Monoxide in prepackaged raw meat so it looks nice and pink no matter what. A butt load of hormones and antibiotics (literally, that’s where you stick the needle…) Then there are other things that can be put in during processing. Lately it’s become nearly impossible to find a plain old turkey without a very tiny type notice somewhere that it’s been ‘enhanced’ with some kind of injected solution. To me, that stuff makes the turkey taste chemically and with a vague ‘wet feathers’ aroma. It’s made from cooking to death things that are normally not eaten in America to make a ‘stock’… Turkey Feet Stock is not my idea of a good flavor. Ham also now frequently has several percent of some strange ‘solutions’ added.
But I can’t go to an Amish farm and get a simple ham, hung in the smoke house, without a USDA jackbooted bust falling on their heads? Sheesh.
But back at ‘pink slime’:
The article is here:
Yes, Scientific American of the “Global Warming Propaganda R Us!” bent. But in this case their Ubber Green bent may be a partial feature.
What Pink Slime Is, and What It’s Not
Well, if you come from the meat producers’ camp, you instead refer to “slime” as lean, finely-textured beef, or LFTB. Connective tissue, trimmings, and scraps from industrial butcher plants are mixed in a large steel reactor, where technicians heat the mixture to 100 oF, initiating tissue lysis – fats and oils begin to rise up, while thicker bits like protein sink. After a spin on the centrifuge to separate these components, lean, squishy pink goo emerges. Ammonium hydroxide – ammonia dissolved partially in water – sterilizes the resulting mass against microbes such as E. coli or Salmonella. (Side Note: a similar product, finely textured beef, uses citric acid in place of ammonia to eliminate pathogens). Once extruded, the “slime” can be blended into hamburger, hot dogs, and other products, or frozen into pellets for shipping and storage.
Second, consider checking the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the U.S. Gov’t standards used to coordinate aspects of daily life ranging from taxes to farming. In 9CFR 301.2, a collection of terms used in the meat packaging industry, we see the following definition for meat:
“The part of the muscle of any cattle, sheep, swine, or goats, which is skeletal or which is found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus, with or without the accompanying or overlying fat, and the portions of bone…skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the muscle tissue, and are not separated from it in the process of dressing.”
Pretty gruesome reading, true, but realize that this explanation covers everything bought at the butcher, so think carefully when considering catch-all meat products like grounds, mush, pastes, or loaves. In this light, “slime” doesn’t seem half as bad; as a culture, we’ve implicitly agreed that throat, blood, and tendons are already on the menu.
And folks wonder why I’m always suspicious of any ground meat…
But, is it nutritious? Consumers can certainly make valid arguments regarding LFTB’s content: there’s less overall “functional” protein than that found in other meat products. An analysis conducted at Iowa State University (A.S. Leaflet R1361) found two-and-a-half times more insoluble protein (77% vs. 30%) relative to soluble proteins in ordinary ground chuck. Nutritionally, our gut bacteria digest much of what we cannot, but there’s a good bet that we can’t get as much value from insoluble proteins (collagen and elastin, found largely in tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) as from their soluble siblings (myosin and actin, usually associated with muscle tissues). While these proteins may be hard to digest, on the plus side, there’s less fat in LFTB (~5%) than standard ground chuck (15-20%).
It actually matters weather a bit of “beef” is the muscle meat or connective tissue “finely textured” or not. As food allergies are directly related to the individual proteins involved, this could also exacerbate reactions, like mine, if it’s a connective tissue protein that’s causal. Finally, as we learned from BSE, the particular tissues carry different health risks.
Not to mention that when I order a hamburger, I’m NOT expecting to be served a plate of ground, digested, extruded, and ‘finely textured’ tendons and cartilage.
Since we’re checking the CFR, let’s consider all the other approved meat additives we encounter there. Mosey on over to 9CFR 424.21 to find a table, no less than 20 pages in length, of all the allowable additives used in meat processing: tenderizers, emulsifiers, denuders, binders, bleaching agents, and sweeteners, all on display for the discerning diner’s palate. Compared to “pink slime” seeing only brief ammonia exposure, I’m more inclined to be suspicious of sausage.
Yup, you got it. 20 pages. FWIW, I can taste some tenderizers. To me they taste like something slightly ‘off’ and funky. I also tend to wonder if my reaction to “beef” might instead be to something listed in those 20 pages and not to the actual cow; but there’s no good way to sort it out, so I just avoid the whole package (other than special occasions).
Speaking of additives, what about the ammonium hydroxide?
Levels high enough to raise the product pH to about 9.00 rid the beef of most virulent microorganisms, but batches tested by the New York Times back in 2009 showed pH levels as low as 7.75.
I don’t know which is more distressing. That the pH might be nearly neutral and ineffective at killing the bacteria (that have no doubt flourished during that 100 F digestion) or that enough ammonia may have been added to make the mass pH 9 or more. Eating floor sweepings treated with floor cleaner is NOT on my “oooh Yum!” list…
It’s been a couple of years since I bought any sausage, and other than commercial hamburgers, I’ve not bought much ground beef in years either. Usually I buy whole chickens and cut up my own, whole organically farmed turkeys (to avoid those injected solutions that taste icky to me – even if others didn’t notice the flavor shift), and if I’m going to have beef, it’s a steak or a roast. Due to the ‘arthritic’ stimulus of beef, I’ve tended to the “chicken franks” with only the occasional Polish Sausage ( the last batch was custom made by the butcher used by my Czech / Swiss mechanic…). When I do have a beef dog, it’s the Kosher kind (we have Hebrew National sold here as a kosher brand). Pork comes as pork chops or roasts, and the occasional bacon. I love hams, but it’s become so much trouble reading every square inch of the label looking for the 7 point type of light gray that says “up to 10% of seasoning solution added” that I’ve largely just stopped buying them. This whole ‘pink slime’ story just moves me a bit more in the direction I was already headed.
I’d be buying meat at Whole Foods except they charge crazy high prices for it.
Sidebar on history:
When I was a kid, my Dad had a ‘toy farm’ on 5 acres outside of town. He’d raise a couple of cows on it. Each year we’d have a couple of steers put into the freezer on the back porch. The calves were fed rolled oats and molasses for 2 weeks after they were weaned as a finishing feed. The local butcher did in the calf ( Dad had a 1 Ton Truck with cattle rack on it and a pulley hoist fitted) and hung it in his back cooler for the desired degree of age. Then cut and wrapped the lot.
Dad was picky about his beef. Veal is a bit tough (not what you would expect, but it is) and not as flavorful as beef. It’s short on fat and tends to dry in cooking too. By finishing the calves for a few weeks on rolled oats, they developed a much nicer texture and the final two weeks with molasses gave a very special flavor (you can taste the molasses in the beef – part of why I’ve never trusted folks who say that some food additive or another ‘just passes through’… we’re more porous than most folks think…).
So I’ve spent my whole life “up close and personal” with where food comes from, and how you make good meat.
Digesting at 100 F, extruding, and soaking in ammonia are NOT how you do it.
Ah well, it’s the USDA and ‘they are here to help you’, so what do you expect?
Me? I think I need to find a farmer to befriend out in a small town with a local butcher and where nobody talks to Feds…