Whether you call it "pink slime" or LFTB (lean, finely textured beef), you can call it a much-maligned product at the heart of an emotional controversy fueled by misinformation, according to a meat expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
The stuff made headlines when it was reported that the federal government plans to buy ground beef that contains the product in the coming year for use in the national school lunch program's beef products. After a newspaper broke the story, a national furor erupted, and "pink slime" became the most searched topic on the Internet.
"Claims made that this product is not safe are blatantly untrue," says animal sciences professor Edward Mills. "From a microbial-pathogen point of view, the product has a better reputation than straight ground beef.
The material in question is lean meat that remains on fat trimmings removed from beef carcasses and that cannot be reclaimed with a knife cost effectively. This remaining meat is separated from fat in a mechanical process that involves heating minced trimmings only to about body temperature (100 degrees) then centrifuging to separate lean from fat.
"There was a significant amount of lean going to waste that now is recovered," Mills explains. "The regulatory wing of USDA says that this product fits in the same category as boneless lean meat. It is the consistency of baby food and most often used along with conventional boneless beef to make ground beef."
Because the trimmings may harbor dangerous pathogens that can cause foodborne illness, they are decontaminated with either ammonia gas or citric acid.
"We live in a culture where emotions consistently trump logic and reason, and this is one of those. The only sound condemnation of the product is that it just looks bad. But the fact remains -- it is a low-cost source of very lean ground beef."
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Artwork: Hamburger Patties