How Safe are Ground Beef Products?

ANALYSIS - In recent weeks the US media has seen a frenzy of articles over the use of what it has described as "pink slime" in ground beef products, writes Chris Harris.
calendar icon 20 March 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

Concerns have been expressed about the safety of the product, which has been portrayed as an unappetising additive to ground meat products such as burgers and sausages.

The hype and furore reached fever pitch when McDonalds issued a statement saying the reconstituted beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens, are not used it is products.

The statement from McDonald's said: "Burgers are at the heart of the Golden Arches, and the fact is, McDonald's USA serves 100 per cent USDA-inspected beef- no preservatives, no fillers, no extenders- period.

"For a number of years prior to 2011, to assist with supply, McDonald's USA used some lean beef trimmings treated with ammonia in our burgers. We were among other food retailers who used this safe product.

"At the beginning of last year, we made a decision to stop using this ingredient. It has been out of the McDonald's USA supply chain since last August. We wanted to be consistent with our global beef supply chain and we're always evolving our practices."

Concerns over the use of the lean beef trimmings grew as it became known that they could be used in burgers and other products that are being fed to children in school meals in the US.

The use of the trimmings has also been the focus of a campaign by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who has been championing healthier school meals both in the US and in the UK.

Last week, the USDA, in response to requests from school districts across the country announced that it will offer more choices to schools in the National School Lunch Program, when it comes to purchases of ground beef products.

USDA said it only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable - including all products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef.

However, it added that 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 insisted that Lean Finely Textured Beef product is safe for all consumers.

It said that Lean Finely Textured Beef is a meat product derived from a process which separates fatty pieces from beef trimmings to reduce the overall fat content.

The USDA added that it ensures all food purchased for the National School Lunch Program meet stringent food safety standards, which includes rigorous pathogen testing.

The wholesomeness and safety of the product has been stridently upheld by the industry, which says a series of myths have grown up around the product through incorrect media reports.

Eldon Roth, founder of one of the companies that manufactures the product from beef trimmings said: "We agree, as do the nation's leading food safety authorities, with USDA's unequivocal statement that the BPI's Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings are safe, wholesome, and nutritious. Anyone that has seen BPI facilities and our processes understands why we have an unsurpassed food safety record.

"We also agree with USDA's reiteration that this is 100 per cent beef, plain and simple. As such, our lean beef has the same nutritional value as all other types of lean trim used to make ground beef and is the same great source of protein, iron, zinc and B-vitamins while also being very low in fat.

"We are a proud supplier to the School Lunch Program because the AMS has set a standard of only approving suppliers who have demonstrated the highest degree of quality and safety in their beef. It is only because our lean beef is nutritious and has achieved consistently high food quality and safety reviews that it is permitted into the School Lunch Program.

"As parents and consumers continue to make important decisions about the food they and their children eat, we hope that they listen to credible sources outside media sensationalists and take note of the overwhelming support from the government and scientific community, who have routinely testified that our lean beef trimmings are 100 per cent beef and are produced, and tested in a way that makes this food very safe."

The industry has added that the use of ammonium hydroxide is not as an ingredient by as a method of ensuring any pathogens are killed that the product is safe to eat.

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