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The U. S. Department of Agriculture continues to purchase a product some call “pink slime” for school lunches. This beef product is made by grinding together beef scraps and treating it with ammonia hydroxide, sources report.
The mystery meat that some experts refer to as “pink slime” has made headlines across the web. According to several sources, it has been purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the USDA) to be used for school lunches. The meat is treated with ammonium hydroxide, a substance used to kill pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella. This is added to the meat to make it ‘safe’ for consumption by eliminating these harmful organisms. After this process, the results are a pinkish substance (the color of PeptoBismol) that can be blended into ground beef to make hamburger patties.

Two microbiologists, Dr. Zirstein and Dr. Custer, who used to work for a government agency reported that scientists in Washington, D.C. were pressured to approve this meat product and minimal safety guidelines were followed. Zirstein and Custer were against use of this substance because the use of connective tissue instead of muscle made it not nutritious as ground beef. Regardless of the controversy surrounding “pink slime”, it has been purchased by the USDA for use in the national school lunch programs.

These two research scientists, who worked at the Food Safety Inspection Service, have classified this product as “high risk” and they report that food inspection officials have ignored their research findings. A separate study, conducted by a government agency, found the meat product known as “pink slime” safe to eat. The company Lean Beef Trimmings of BPI continues to mass produce the meat substance and sell it for human consumption.

Another interesting fact is that the mystery meat product has been dropped by McDonald’s, Burger King, and even Taco Bell, putting the USDA in an odd position. The objection by scientists Zirstein and Custer is not just about the way it is produced and treated, but the fact that it is not nutritiously adequate. Also, there is a fact that around 7 percent of beef purchased for the national school lunch program came from BPI, the company that produces the mystery meat product.

Perhaps the most concerning issue with this “pink slime” is the safety threat it poses to those who ingest it. There are serious dangers associated with ammonium hydroxide. For one it can turn into a common component of homemade bombs-ammonium nitrate. Another concern is that it is harmful for humans to eat, as ammonia is a component of fertilizer and household cleaners. Basically, “pink slime” is just a filler added to meat to make it more affordable with disregard for human safety.

There has been a public outcry against “pink slime” and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is helping to push for healthier school lunches. The USDA has announced new guidelines to ensure that children are given healthy options for school meals. These standards ask for more whole grains and vegetables, and less fat and sodium in the school meals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of high school students are eating vegetables once a day or not at all. This is considerably below the recommended levels of intake for vegetables. When you consider the national obesity issue we are now facing, having healthier lunches just makes sense.

  • Huff Post Education (2012). Pink Slime For School Lunch: Government Buying 7 Million Pounds Of Ammonia-Treated Meat Huff Post Education (2012). Pink Slime For School Lunch: Government Buying 7 Million Pounds Of Ammonia-Treated Meat For Meals. Retrieved from:
  • Knowles, D. (2012). Partners in ‘slime’. Retrieved from:
  • Weir, S.B. (2012). Seven Million Pounds of “Pink Slime” Beef Destined for National School Lunch Program. Retrieved from:
  • Photo courtesy of usdagov on Flickr: