That picture looks awfully appealing, no?
Awful by itself is probably a more apt description. That right there is pink slime, a seemingly unnatural combination of lean beef trimmings that have been separated from the fat and are passed through a centrifuge, then commonly exposed to an ammonia gas to kill bacteria such as e coli. You might have heard of it, as it has been in the news quite a bit over the past week.
If you have a package of ground beef in your refrigerator, then there is about a 70% chance that your meat contains this filler product. Some times called boneless lean beef trimmings or finely textured lean beef, pink slime is an industrial product created by those in the beef industry in the interest of not wasting any bits of meat that travel along the production line. The USDA has declared pink slime to be a safe source of nutrition and does not require companies using it as filler in their ground meat products to specifically label its presence or the quantity thereof because they consider it beef.
ABC News recently published an article titled “Where you can get ‘pink-slime’ free beef” where they sent out inquiries to a number of grocery store chains to determine whether or not their ground beef contained any of this filler product. One of the most disturbing parts of this article was from an interview with Kit Foshee, a former corporate quality assurance manager with Beef Products, Inc., the creator of pink slime, who stated that it “kind of looks like Play-Doh. It’s pink and frozen. It’s not what the typical person would consider meat.”
Foshee went on to say that “pink slime comes from a low grade of beef trimmings unlike what they called real ground beef…The low grade trimmings come from parts of the cow most susceptible to contamination, often close to the hide, which is highly exposed to fecal matter. But, because of BPI’s treatment of the trimmings – simmering them in low heat, separating the fat and tissue using a centrifuge and spraying them with ammonia gas to kill germs – the USDA says it’s safe to eat.”
It was also recently reported that the USDA had purchased millions of dollars of pink slime for use in ground beef that is intended to be sold to schools. And while the USDA has gone on record saying they are leaving it up the individual schools to decide whether they want to purchase beef either with or without the so called lean finely textured beef, it is still unsettling that some schools will serve meat containing up to 25% pink slime to children across the country.
Now I rarely get on my soap box about food matters, mostly because what you eat or don’t eat really should be a personal decision. For my family I do my best to keep processed foods out of my home, I ensure the labels of whatever I do buy show that there is no high fructose corn syrup, and I work hard to do most of my shopping around the perimeter of the store, specifically in the produce, meat and dairy departments. But that is what works for us and I wouldn’t pass judgment on anyone that doesn’t think this way. However, I can’t bare to stand silent on the matter of the slime.
I don’t care what the USDA says, what BPI’s “pink slime is a myth” website purports to explain away, or what any “expert” might say to defend this practice. Pink slime isn’t food and shouldn’t be consumed, especially when you consider that it’s original use was as an additive to dog food. Anything that has to be cooked at low heat and then sprayed with ammonia (regardless of the fact that it is considered a naturally occurring substance and can be found in some quantities in beef itself) in order for it to be edible shouldn’t be considered a food product.
The ABC News article does a nice job breaking down the response from the various supermarket chains and provides good information for consumers to make a educated choice about where they can purchase pink slime free ground beef. However, if you’ve read any of my columns with any regularity, you know there is only one true way to avoid the slime.
Grind it yourself!
Now you might be saying to yourself that grinding your own meat takes time and possibly an investment in some equipment. Sure, it does. Anything worth doing, or in this case avoiding, takes time and money. To be perfectly clear, I’m not advocating for anyone to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a professional grade grinder. In fact, some the best grinders for home use that money can buy are less than fifty dollars.
I have been grinding my own meat whether it is beef, pork, chicken or lamb for the better part of five years. It is very rare that I ever purchase pre-ground meat and it is usually poultry from a source that I trust. I own a heavy duty electric grinder with a one horsepower motor that can churn out upwards of four hundred pounds of a meat an hour. It was pricey, but it is fantastic for big jobs like when I make fifty pounds or more of sausage. However, I don’t use that it all that often.
My favorite is actually a simple cast iron manual grinder that can attach to my countertop. It is easy to clean and great for when I have less than ten pounds of meat to grind. When I finish the island I’m building in the kitchen of our new house I have another manual cast iron grinder that I’m going to bolt onto the countertop so I always have a grinder at the ready.
It doesn’t take much to get started and you can really get creative in the meat blends you make. Whether it is a custom burger blend or a meatball mix there are so many possibilities when you are grinding the meat yourself from whole roasts, loins or shoulders. Some time ago I wrote an article about demystifying homemade sausage that gives a little more insight to how I approach grinding meat at home.
So, go get your grind on and avoid the slime. While it will take a little extra effort the higher quality meat you will have and the half inch you’ll add to your biceps will make it all worthwhile.
Photo credit: jamieoliver.com