Pink Shirts, Pink Ties and Pink Slime

The 'Boss Burger," my favorite at 'Dotty's'!

I own and wear a pink shirt. I even have and wear several pink ties. However, this post isn’t about apparel…sorry.

“Pink Slime” has hit the media yet again in recent days. Several of my friends in social media have inquired what my thoughts were on a number of videos and news reports: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution ‘70% of Americas Beef Is Treated With Ammonia,’ Fox News Report ‘Pink Slime in 70% Of Ground Beef,’ and ABC News ‘Where You Can Get Pink-Slime Free Beef,’ were the three most cited.

Can you imagine taking fresh picked fruit, misting it with ammonia hydroxide to eliminate bacteria, sticking it in a blender, cooking it, putting it in a jar and then selling it for human consumption? Most of us do, by purchasing jelly and jam to go with our peanut butter.

Can you imagine taking fresh picked lettuce or spinach, misting it with ammonia hydroxide to eliminate bacteria, putting it in a package, selling it, buying it, opening it, adding croutons, tomato and ranch dressing and then eating it? Many of us do, purchasing prepackaged salad to eat before supper.

This post is not intended to promote, nor condemn the practice of utilizing ammonium hydroxide, but rather to present some facts and allow you to make your own decisions. This is not a “new” process, nor is it solely utilized by the meat industry. The questions are those that I have been asked over the past four days.

1.       What is ammonium hydroxide?

Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia mixed with water and is found naturally in the air, water, soil, all plants and animals and is produced by the human body. All living things need proteins, which are made up of twenty different amino acids. Plants and micro-organisms can make most amino acids from nitrogen in the atmosphere, but animals cannot. Ammonia is a very important in the nitrogen cycle, protein synthesis and helps maintain the body’s pH balance.

2.       Is ammonia really used in food processing?

Ammonia in a variety of forms is used for leavening, pH control and surface finishing. Ammonium bicarbonate and phosphate are used as leavening agents ‘yeast food’ and dough strengtheners and are listed as acceptable in natural and organic food markets. Ammonia hydroxide, while already present in muscle tissue, is added to muscle that is not immediately packaged (more on this later) to change the pH to eliminate and reduce risk of ecoli and salmonella bacteria. The list of foods that ammonium hydroxide is used in includes: cheeses, chocolate, pudding, relishes, jams, fruits, vegetables, cereals, sports drinks and beer, to name a few. Remember, ammonia is naturally occurring and plays a vital role in maintaining health of both plants, animals and humans.

3.       Is ammonium hydroxide safe?

In 1974 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) listed ammonium hydroxide as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe). It is also recognized as being safe by other countries, the European Union, the JECFA (Joint Expert Committee of Food Additives) of the U.N.’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and the WHO (World Health Organization). Ammonia vapor can be harmful at high levels, as can consumption of the liquid form. While it is possible, in theory, to consume a lethal level of ammonia, because of its very strong smell and taste, a human or animal would be repulsed and unlikely to actually eat it. When used in the processing of fruits, meat and vegetables, only food grade ammonium hydroxide is utilized and the ammonia evaporates prior to packaging.

4.       Do they really use ‘dog food’ meat?

Hamburger is muscle and fat tissue that is not sold as retail cut. Trim, the muscle and fat that is cut away from steaks, roasts and stew meat, has always been utilized in hamburger. As a rule of thumb, younger animals yield less hamburger; older animals tend to yield more hamburger.  The reason that older cattle yield more hamburger is simply due to the fact that their muscle tissue tends to be tougher and less desirable in the form of steaks Younger cattle are typically more tender, thus more of their carcass goes to retail cuts. Whether an animal is young or old, fat is trimmed from the muscle and then added back in order to package a hamburger product that is “lean.” I share this because historically all the trim was utilized in hamburger. However, in the 80’s, “lean” became the demand and so the trimmings of fat were removed and used for other purposes, ie dog food. It was quickly realized that there was a tremendous amount of high quality lean beef being lost in providing “lean” product and so a process to stop the waste was developed. For me personally, when I have a steer, heifer or bull cut and wrapped for the freezer, I have our butcher put all of the trimmings into hamburger. I like the fat. Fat is where the flavor comes from and without it, patties fall apart.

5.       Is the process described in the reports accurate?

Trimmings and cuts deemed to be low value (the chuck and top round most often)  are set aside for use as hamburger, sausage and other products. All of the muscle is trimmed by hand to establish a lean product and trimmings. The trimmings are then heated and put in a centrifuge to separate the remaining muscle from the fat. It is then “misted” with ammonium hydroxide to drop the pH and address the potential risk of ecoli and salmonella due to the heating and it evaporates; it is not “poured” in, or thrown in a washing machine as depicted by Jamie Oliver. The lean product then has fat added back to it in an amount to provide a “lean” label and have the ability to maintain the form of patty. As a side note, some carcasses are “too lean” and fat has to be added to the lean in order for it to retain its shape as patty; fat often from another carcass. Also, as a personal note, where I have my beef cut and wrapped, I ask my butcher to add some pork fat to my hamburger to add a unique flavor…the essence of bacon J.

In conclusion, I leave you with the following thoughts. Ammonium hydroxide is naturally occurring and safe for consumption. Trimmings are used with low value muscle for making hamburger and sausage and to eliminate the risk of ecoli and salmonella, are misted with ammonium hydroxide. I do not like “lean” hamburger and instruct my butcher to include all of the trimmings, no fat missing (sometimes adding pork fat), so I can barbeque juicy and flavorful burgers. However, I also eat burgers at fast food establishments, diners and café’s and trust that they are safe to consume, despite being dryer and a bit less flavorful due to its lean nature. I leave you to make your own decision, but I for one will continue to eat burgers that contain lean beef retail trim (also referred to as ‘pink slime’) and wear pink shirts and ties. :-)

Here are some additional links for reference:

Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT) Is A Safe and Wholesome Beef Product

BPI Ground Beef Gets Support From Food Safety Leaders

Engineering A Safer Burger

 

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  1. March 12, 2012 at 1:27 AM | #1

    Your pink shirt’s got nothing on us!

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=156149661067037&set=a.168095386539131.45828.100000160134144&type=3&theater

    On a more serious note, thanks for sharing such informative thoughts, Jeff!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 8:36 AM | #2

      Oh what a fun time that was! Thanks for sharing Kelly…lol

  2. March 12, 2012 at 3:22 AM | #6

    Thank you for the education, Jeff. You did a great job making a serious topic not just readable but an enjoyable read and one I am anxious to share with others.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 8:36 AM | #7

      I appreciate the comments Barry. Thank you for stopping by. See you in the blogosphere soon :-)

  3. March 12, 2012 at 6:54 AM | #8

    Thanks for the great post! I plan to share it. I really appreciate the specific examples of other uses of ammonium hydroxide. Great job!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 8:35 AM | #9

      Thank you Janeal, I appreciate the comments. Feel free to share as much as you like :-)

  4. DebbieLB
    March 12, 2012 at 7:12 AM | #10

    Well explained! Thanks for taking the time! I’m sharing this with my friends.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 8:34 AM | #11

      Thank you Debbie :-)

  5. March 12, 2012 at 8:16 AM | #12

    I don’t know how you have the time to look up all the references (esp. bullet points 2 & 3). Great job Jeff.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 8:39 AM | #13

      Thanks Nate. It seems like we’re able to find the time when it’s a topic in our backyard. I also owe great appreciation to my meats professor at Cal Poly, Dr. Wooten…even though it’s been a few years…talk about a wealth of information!

  6. Terri
    March 12, 2012 at 9:47 AM | #14

    Jeff,
    These are some good explanations.

    I think the popularity of this issue is an indication of our consumer’s desire for a “purer,” less processed product. Which I’m not convinced is a bad thing. I prefer the quality of my own milk, cheese, beef and veal to that which is available through mainstream sources. Because the quality of my farm fresh products is so good, I usually find most other cheese and meat dissapointing.

    What I’m confused about though, is why you feel obligated to defend the food procesors. Your facts seem good, but maybe processors should be changing their processing methods to meet customer desires.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 10:11 AM | #15

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Terri, I appreciate it.

      I have great respect for and support direct sales from farm to fork and farmers markets. It’s an opportunity that I feel will continue to grow, especially when the economy recovers.

      As for addressing changes in processors methods, I think they are caught in a tight spot. They are tasked with providing a safe product to the consumer. Ammonium hydroxide is proven safe tool, to help reduce the risk of the consumer getting sick from ecoli, salmonella and other bacteria. Certainly, part of the responsibility is with the consumer, in that they need to prepare the meat, fruit or vegetables properly on their end. If the processor does not address the risk of bacterial contamination and someone gets sick, the blame always goes back to where the food was processed, not prepared.

      It’s actually a bit ironic, in that it was the demand by the consumer for a lean product, that indirectly created this process. In order to meet the “lean” label requirements, packers remove all possible fat from the muscle and then add back just enough, so that it will maintain its shape when cooked and still meet the ‘lean’ standards.

      I would offer that this presents an opportunity for a jump in ‘non-lean’ labeled hamburger sales, which is simply straight trimmings turned to hamburger, without the lean trim being added back to it. Perhaps based on the percent fat, it could take similar labels as steaks and have ‘Prime’ and ‘Choice,’ as well as the ‘Lean.’

      Finally, as to why I ‘defend’ the food processors…

      I believe that in order to provide the necessary food, going into the future, it is going to take all of us working together, offering diversity in choice. When the processors are doing something that does not make sense, or I view it as harmful or illogical, I will call them on it. However, when what they are doing is logical, safe and beneficial, I will support them. We are all on this journey together :-)

      Thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts and ask questions.

    • March 12, 2012 at 6:55 PM | #16

      I am with Jeff. If processors were not coming up with ways to market and utilize all of the beef we produce the price of our calves would be much less than it is. It takes everyone in this industry from cow-calf producers to retail stores and every step in the “supply chain” to get beef from pasture to plate in a truly sustainable fashion (aka profitable and capable of meeting the demands of the world). I will defend your right to raise, process and market your own beef, cheese and veal and feed a few of your neighbors, just as I will “defend” and even thank the feedlots, packers, processors and retailers who make it possible for me to make a living by purchasing my calves each year.

      • terrilawton
        April 4, 2012 at 12:01 PM | #17

        Shawn,

        I’m sure you want to be respectful of all farmers. And so I think I would be doing you a dis-service by not pointing out that referring to farms that do direct sales as ‘feeding a few neighbors’ sounds somewhat disrespectful.
        I wouldn’t consider thousands of customers as ‘a few neighbors.’
        To be sustainable in suburban areas, a strong community of supporters is necessary. These non-farming people care a lot about farms, farmland, farm animals and food ethics. Selling directly to our non-farming neighbors (we have more than 17,000 in our town) gives us a great platform to talk about ag issues. For example, I can explain to folks why having antibiotics available to care for sick farm animals is important for animal welfare.
        So more than just providing a specialty product, farm-to-fork folks can help teach non-ag folks about how well you care for your calves too. And that helps keep your prices high, and protects your freedom to take good care of your calves.

  7. March 12, 2012 at 10:12 AM | #18

    Thanks Jeffery, very informative as usual. I agree with you on the fat in hamburger.I tried the really lean stuff, way too dry and tasteless. Does your personal butcher use the ammonium hydroxide, or is that necessary? Also want to know, how is the ‘Boss Burger’ made? It looks really good. I’ll take a milkshake and fries with that please. :-)

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 10:21 AM | #19

      Neither of our butchers use ammonium hydroxide, the primary reason being that they keep all of the product chilled. It is the heating process, to separate the fat from the muscle to get the lean, that increases the chance of bacterial growth and thus requires the preventative measure. Since I don’t like my meat lean…no heating required :-)

      As for the ‘Boss,’ it has hamburger, pastrami, jalapenos, tomato, onion, lettuce, pepper jack cheese and I like to add a fried egg to top, laced with Tobasco and sprinkled with pepper :-)

  8. Wilkie
    March 12, 2012 at 11:08 AM | #20

    Thank you for taking the time to address this.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 5:11 PM | #21

      My pleasure Wilkie, you are more than welcome.

  9. March 12, 2012 at 3:34 PM | #22

    I had a few days scheduled wall-to-wall and pink slime rumors came up really quickly…. glad to get a farm / meat perspective!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 5:12 PM | #23

      Thank you JP! Great to talk to you today on the drive :-)

  10. Johnnie J. Scott
    March 12, 2012 at 3:39 PM | #24

    Great post. Very insightful. Enjoyed reading it.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 12, 2012 at 5:12 PM | #25

      Thank you Johnnie, I appreciate it. Stop by again :-)

  11. March 12, 2012 at 6:19 PM | #26

    Thanks for explaining what the process is. We all need to get real facts not internet hysteria.

  12. March 12, 2012 at 7:14 PM | #27

    This kind of insight is exactly what is needed on issues like “pink slime.” I truly appreciate people who take the time to address specific concerns in plain language. It’s unfortunate that so often practices in agriculture become popular issues based on poor word choice. I was part of a discussion in a Public Relations in Agriculture class last week regarding the habits of the agriculture industry. This question was raised regarding transparency: are food producers unintentionally “hiding” information about production, processing, etc., from consumers, perhaps by showing only the pretty side, or simply not joining the conversation? I hope that more people with insight like yours will choose to join the conversation when such issues arise, so that consumers will feel more connected to the process and the people of production agriculture.

  13. March 12, 2012 at 9:35 PM | #28

    Excellent work, Jeff. Thanks for taking the time to sort through the ins and outs of this issue.

  14. March 13, 2012 at 8:21 AM | #29

    This does not accurately describe where this “lean” comes from. “Trimmings and cuts deemed to be low value (the chuck and top round most often) are set aside for use as hamburger, sausage and other products. All of the muscle is trimmed by hand to establish a lean product and trimmings. The trimmings are then heated and put in a centrifuge to separate the remaining muscle from the fat. It is then “misted” with ammonium hydroxide to drop the pH and address the potential risk of ecoli and salmonella due to the heating and it evaporates;”

    This particular lean comes from fat, not muscle trimmings. It does not come from the chuck or the round. It comes from fat. A better analogy that most may be familiar with would be rendering pork fat for lard. The by-product is cracklins. Now take that similar process, use a lower heat so as not to cook the “lean”.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 13, 2012 at 8:35 AM | #30

      Thanks for clarifying that Amy. I looked at what I wrote and agree I wasn’t as clear as I needed to be. If it’s ok with you, I’ll insert your analogy. Spot on! Thanks again :-)

  15. March 15, 2012 at 7:30 AM | #31

    How about a photo of you in that pink get-up, Jeff? Hope to see you at #DadChat tonight. We’re talkin’ teens!

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 15, 2012 at 8:22 PM | #32

      LOL…we’ll see what we can do on the picture Bruce :-) Needed some family time tonight…just got home from four days away…I will be around next Thursday though!

  16. Ned
    March 15, 2012 at 4:38 PM | #33

    Thanks Jeff, good job.

  17. March 26, 2012 at 9:29 AM | #34

    Very insightful article Jeff!

  18. March 26, 2012 at 10:36 AM | #35

    Something ALL consumers need to read. An educated decision is the best decision. To be educated, you must be willing to hear, understand and accept both sides, boil down the facts (or mist it with some ammonia hydroxide) and see the truth for what it is.

  19. March 27, 2012 at 6:47 AM | #36

    Very well written. The amount of mis-information in the general mix is astounding.

  20. scott
    April 20, 2012 at 6:31 AM | #37

    i could care less, i do not eat meat so if it’s loaded with chemicals, not my problem. i actually endorse it. now, if fruits and veggies are “misted” you can do what is called “rinsing them off”. you cannot rinse off the pink slime. many organic produce companies do not use chemicals to wash their veggies. so yet another reason to support organic natural foods and not corporate.

  21. April 29, 2012 at 8:20 PM | #38

    That was all very interesting. I had no idea that we used Ammonia hydroxide that much. It is also very good to hear that it is safe for us to consume. I don’t feel so worried about it now. Thanks for all the information so that I could really make a decision about how I feel.

  22. May 17, 2012 at 12:06 PM | #39

    I hope the food processors do not go to older and less safe methods. I can remember a time when you risked your life to drink milk that had not been pasturized. I remember when you had to eat meat of all types next to burnt to ensure that you didn’t get e-coli and die. I prefer the less invasive methods of changing the ph of the meat or food so that these bacteria do not make their home in my stomach. Our last food outbreak came form organically grown tomatoes. My cousin died from eating salmonella infected lettuce in the old days. The trouble with these organic foodies is that they have no science in what they cook or say to back up their propaganda. Watch them mix everything with their hands instead of wearing gloves because we are suppose to believe they don’t carry any germs on their hands. Most of the things they do when cooking are totally unsanitary

  1. March 12, 2012 at 2:29 PM | #1
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