Pink Slime

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…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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23 Responses to Pink Slime

  1. Power Grab says:

    They reluctantly allow schools to NOT buy beef with pink slim? I can’t shake the feeling that it’s actually “soylent pink”…or maybe “pink soy”. Have you heard about how prisons feed beef cut with at least 30% soy. That way, the prisoners may talk a lot of trash, but they are less prone to be men of action. it’s all that estrogenic stuff, y’know.

  2. George says:

    No need to fear ground meat, E.M. Smith. Simply hop in the car, drive down the Freedom Meat Lockers between Corralitos and Watsonville, get a quarter/half of beef cut/ground to order.

    You can get decent stuff around here if you know where to look. They will also cure/smoke bacon and hams for you without the “solutions”.

  3. sandy mcclintock says:

    My wife went to the local butcher asking for ‘dog meat’ – that is food for the dog – not minced dog ;).
    He said he had none, but would sell the meat he used for his home made sausages. Alas the ‘meat’ consisted of 95% fat : 5% lean. :(
    We do not buy his home made sausages any more. He will make lean-only sausages to order, but they are very ‘dry’ and need lots of butter. Somewhere around 80% lean might be a reasonable blend.
    Another source of goo comes from bones; they are put in a press and squashed hydraulically. The marrow etc is squished out as a goo – I am not sure where its used.

  4. George says:

    First of all, why would someone want lean sausage? It would taste terrible and not be all that healthy for you. You do realize that this whole “saturated fat” thing turned out to be wrong, don’t you? Eating corn oil is much worse for you than animal fat. Omega 6 fats cause arterial inflammation that results in the buildup of cholesterol. Something close to 50% of the male population over 50 is on various drugs to reduce cholesterol but the heart attack rate hasn’t dropped. Grass fed beef which has a higher omega 3 to omega 6 ratio reduces arterial inflammation and cholesterol build up. Use butter instead of margarine. Use lard instead of vegetable shortening, it’s actually better for you.

  5. George says:

    You might have a look at this:

    Seriously, there is a lot of real science behind this.

  6. George says:

    The dietary cholesterol and fat hysteria is the “global warming” of cardiology and only serves to make pharma companies rich hand over fist in keeping people on meds. It’s your diet, alright, but it isn’t about avoiding the fats, it is about avoiding the stuff the government TELLS you to eat. That is the stuff that is killing us. The oils high in omega 6 fats, the process carbs, etc. People did not evolve eating corn oil nor did they evolve eating a lot of grain, or even a lot of fruits and veggies for that matter. People ate what veggies were in season within walking distance until only a couple of hundred years ago. Eskimos and Laplanders eat practically no veggies at all. In fact, if you eat the liver, kidney, sweetbreads, tripe (and actually brains but that’s riskier these days) of animals, you don’t need any veggies in your diet at all.

  7. E.M.Smith says:


    Hadn’t heard of that one… I’m really starting to think one ought never to eat a chunk of meat that isn’t in it’s natural form…

    @Sandy Macclintock:

    I’m not so much worried about the amount of fat (though 80% would be way high…) as I am about the “mystery meat” and non-meat that might be in it.

    I got my own meat grinder and tried making sausage once. It was not very hard, but a bit messy. I also discovered that pig-casing stinks. Couldn’t stand the idea of eating it.

    Figure next time I’ll try lamb casing (that is supposed to not-stink) or just make ‘patty sausage”.


    Thanks for the pointer to the butcher. I’ll likely be visiting…

    Per saturated fat:

    Periodically I bring up those points. Dad was hard core against margarine. Thought it tasted funny. I had to agree. So I’ve eaten butter my whole life, as has my family. Use lard in baking, too. (The Amish diet is very rich in lard, bacon, hams, beef, and more eggs and cheese than I can count… part of why Dad called “BS” on the saturated fat thing. HIS Dad lived to 90+ on such a diet… as did a pile of other relatives.)

    There was a diet test done with tri-stearate. Had NO impact on cholesterol (neither up nor down).

    As near as can be determined, the “bad” impact measured in the early testing was entirely because they lumped ALL “hard fats” together, and that included the hydrogenated fats rich in trans-fat (that in testing has been shown to be quite evil – excepting the ‘conjugated fats’ found in dairy that are a special class of their own).

    FWIW a good friend had his Dad die of a heart attack. So HE was on the margarine et. al. diet. Had a heart attack at about late 40 something, but a stent kept him going. I explained my understanding to him. His family now eats butter and real meats with eggs. He’s past every physical since with flying colors and is now going on ’60 something Real Soon Now…

    The Omega-6 vs 3 ratio is VERY important. I go out of my way to get mono-unsaturated oils for the non-animal fats. (Safflower is a bit hard to find, but available. Olive is expensive but tastes good. IIRC Grape is a monounsaturate as well and it had nice flavor.) Grass fed beef, sheep, and high omega-3 chicken and eggs are a good idea too. (Grain fed raises the omega-6 ratio too much…)

    Oh, and I use Palm Oil or Coconut Oil where reasonable (coconut has an interesting flavor effect and foams a lot in frying.. palm is great for shortening) as their extra short fatty acids are “special”…

    But I’ve gotten a bit tired of telling folks as either nobody cares or they look at you like you are from Mars… and any attempt to point them at the published work just causes a “Oh, look at the time, gotta go”…)

    Omega-6 polyunsaturated increases inflammation. America has been on a Soy and Corn oil binge for about 40 years. America is drowning in inflammatory diseases.

    Omega-3 cuts inflammation. It comes from grasses and sea foods. America has been moving ever further away from grass fed animal products and toward grains and grain fed….

    The reason is interesting too. ONE enzyme turns both of them into things that either enhance or reduce inflammatory processes. Nature just used the same pathway and same genes, depending on the normal ratio of 3 vs 6 to keep the products in balance. Fine when most critters ate grass and grains were rare…

    IIRC the historical ratio was something like 4 of Omega-6 per Omega-3 (or less) and we’re now running somewhere near 20:1 instead…

  8. George says:

    @E.M. Smith

    There are also some community based farms around where you can buy a “share” of a cow. You can either put up cash or work around the farm to help with whatever needs done. Good grass-fed beef and when it is time for slaughter, you get your quarter or half or whatever your share is. I have a friend who has several shares at a farm in Santa Cruz County. She has a child that is allergic to cows milk, for example, so she has a goat milk “share”. To pay for her share, she milks goats.

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    As I drink goat milk (part of that minimal beef and only as a treat thing) and like goats, and the spouse won’t let me have my own ( even small ones… wonder how hard it is to milk a bunny? ;-) that goat share sounds rather interesting…

    I’ve milked a cow ‘the old fashioned way’, but suspect folks use milking machines these days… though I’ve been assured that the product is better and the cows happier done with warm hands and a soft heart…

  10. George says:

    I can get you all the goat milk you need. I’ll ask my friend tomorrow.

  11. George says:

    My friend also makes her own goat cheese, too.

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    I love goat cheese and would also enjoy learning how to make it… I bought the book… If your friend needs help making cheese, just let me know…

  13. Verity Jones says:

    Mmmm the comments about good food are making me hungry (I’ve only had coffee so far this morning), which is just as well – it let me recovery after reading the article. The thought of pink slime is awful. Great article. I’m with you on the ‘closer to natural’ thing.

  14. Pingback: Kosher Autism Prevention? | Musings from the Chiefio

  15. Pascvaks says:

    Hamburger is the same as Scrapple? Everything but the Mooo.., and a ‘hole’ lot more? This sounds more and more like Chicago in hayday of “The Jungle” (a’la Upton Sinclair). No wonder people are getting sick, and tired, and going crazy, and politicians are getting away with murder. Wonder how many of us have Mad Cow or Mad Pig or Mad Hen or Mad Duck Disease and don’t know it? I’ll bet anything that this time a hundred thousand years hense, some Prof and a few kids taking his Anthropology course, are going to dig something up and figure out what it was that decimated the population of the planet in our day and age. Mark my words! The truth will out! Eventually!

    PS: I’ve said it before, I know, but it doesn’t matter a jot in the Cambridge English Dictonary who the ding-bat President is; the most important person on the federal ballot is your Representative and two Senators and if you think anyone of them might vote YES on something you better vote for someone else that’ll vote the way you would if you were there yourself. Never trust a politician any farther than you can throw them with one hand tied behind your back, and never reelect them more than once for the same office. There are far too many good people with lots of common sense who are waiting to go to Washington to clean the place up and get the country back on track. (and cut the Federal Register into tiny little common sense pieces;-)

  16. George says:

    My friend gets her goat milk from a private farm, not a CSA as I had assumed. She milks the goats and gets some milk for it. That said, there are some CSAs in the area that have goats. One is Fallen Oak. You have to be careful with goat milk, though, because some goats can give awful milk and yet another in the same group can give wonderful milk. My friend knows which ones to milk for her child.

  17. George says:

    The only decent scrapple available commercially is Rapa. They do sell mail order but only in certain months of the year (winter). They are currently not selling mail order but will resume next November:

  18. adolfogiurfa says:

    Wow! That´s recycling PRIONS…Mad Cow disease ahead!

  19. KevinM says:

    “wonder how hard it is to milk a bunny?”

    OMG. Been a while since I stopped in, but thoughts like that bring one back. I immagine the bunny to be ticklish. Had one as a pet once, which is an obnoxious idea. Bunnies in the back yard eating dandelion heads is great, bunnies in cages eating kibble is stupid. The poor animal I had caged would quiver and machine-gun poo balls as soon as you looked at it.

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    Couldn’t happen to nicer folks…

    I noticed the picture of ‘pink goo’ in the article was “mechanically separated chicken”. Looks like another thing to add to the list of ‘avoid’ items. ( I have a meat grinder and I know how to use it… )

    Generally don’t buy much processed “meat food product” anyway. Easy enough to make it zero. I know a butcher who makes “Polish Dogs” to order and I like a Polish better than a hot dog anyway.

    As a reminder: Bankruptcy does not mean “end of business”, just “new owner”. As the finance companies are GE Captal and Bank of America, that means Pink Slime will be produced by “Friends of Obama” and with partial government ownership (until the BofA shares are sold ‘someday’…) so I’m sure they will get favorable “Don’t tell” laws and regulations Real Soon Now…

    The the stockholders included Friends Of Bill is satisfying, though ;-) Bankruptcy is not kind to stockholders…

    we learn that AFA Foods, best known for being the maker of “pink slime”, and a portfolio company of labor unions and Clinton afficionado Ron Burkle and his PE firm Yucaipa, has just filed for bankruptcy.

    Ah, those ‘consumer friendly’ Democrats…

  21. Power Grab says:

    I saw part of a video about the pink slime issue a little while ago. They showed a close-up of the ingredients in the meat patties. It looked to me like there were at least 3 forms of soy in them. There were many added vitamins and minerals. Soy depletes your B vitamins, so I’m sure that’s why they were included. Of course, beef is naturally a good source of B vitamins all by itself. If they’d leave it alone, it would be OK.

    I heard that it was during the Clinton administration that the food processing industry was given the go-ahead to put soy into whatever-the-heck they wanted to. So it’s hard to find processed food that DOESN’T have soy in it. Just try to find a loaf of bread, or box of crackers or cookies that doesn’t have 2 or 3 forms of soy in it. I know this audience doesn’t prefer processed food, but I’m just sayin’!

    Soy is a known goitrogen — makes you hypothyroid. Being hypothyroid commonly makes you gain weight and keep it on. Soy and 6-to-11 daily servings of bread will go a long way in making us obese — ya think?

    I read a book called “Wheat Belly” recently. The writer, Dr. Davis, did an experiment on himself. He got himself some heirloom seeds (IIRC, might have been einkorn, an ancestor of wheat), and also some organic modern wheat. He ground the heirloom seeds and made a loaf of bread. Before eating it, he tested his blood sugar and IIRC it was around 86 or so. After eating the bread, he tested his blood sugar again and found it to be only slightly above 100.

    Then he ground the modern wheat and made a loaf of bread. Before eating it, his blood sugar was 86 or so (as before). After eating it, it had zoomed to 160-something or 180-something. One point he made several times in the book was that modern “frankenwheat” [sic] causes your blood sugar to go way higher than heirloom varieties. Modern wheat has a genome that is around twice as large as its ancestor grains, which also makes it more likely to be an allergen. In fact, he says more than once that eating 2 slices of whole wheat bread causes a higher rise in blood sugar than eating 2 tablespoons of white sugar.

    That book is the main reason I dropped bread and such from my diet. That and the fact that disagrees with my digestion. That’s all I’m going to say about it in polite company.

  22. E.M.Smith says:

    @Power Grab:

    The niece has had ‘issues’ tied to food that seem to have a hormonal character. She’s had a devil of a time avoiding Soy. It’s just about everywhere, as you pointed out. The suspected problem molecules tend to be oil soluble, too, so even just ‘soybean oil’ in a product can cause issues.

    My old college roomie has become wheat intolerant.

    I can’t have corn. ( Let’s just say I’ll never need to buy Exlax again…) That had onset roughly the same time that GMO Corn was rolled out, but is more likely a personal reaction to eating corn chowder when I had a high fever / viral ‘flue like’ illness.

    Either we’re a very odd group of folks, or generalized food sensitivities are on the rise. Given that peanut ‘allergy’ is dramatically up, I think it’s something changed in the environment…

    FWIW, I’ve noticed a very nice energy rise from eating Barley … Maybe I’ll find some old style wheat berries and try growing some of the old heirloom stuff…

    At any rate, we’ve pretty much moved to a pattern of not eating anything we can’t identify as known, clean, and safe. The occasional package of unpronounceable ingredients does get eaten, but more often that not it’s just a simple natural thing that ends up on the plate. We’re doing better when we eat that way.

    Right now I’m slowly emptying the shelves of cans. Going to frozen or dried. The issue of plasticizers is just not acceptable. While it won’t mean ‘no’ cans, it will mean less. And I’ll not be letting them sit on the shelf for long. So the occasional can of soup, but not an inventory of canned peas…

    Meat/fish/bird/protein / starch / vegetable. That’s the basic meal plan. Vegetable now to be fresh or frozen, not canned. Starch typically baked whole potato or rice, sometimes pilaf or noodles (wheat for making noodles is much higher in protein, lower in starch – Durham type), and I’m working on recipes using more oats and barley. The “protein” can be legumes or cheese, so a vegetarian lasagna with spinach in it has all three built in. Only rarely do we have bread as the starch (mostly toast with breakfast, where the fat and protein load is already high and needs some sugar / balance. You need one sugar molecule to break down one fat molecule, so a bit of jam and toast makes the eggs and bacon digest and metabolize better).

    I’ve noticed we’re just fine on meals like: Roast chicken, baked potato, peas/corn/carrots.

    I suspect moving to fresh / frozen for the vegetables will give another small benefit.

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