USDA Loves That Pink Slime


Some of the biggest fast food companies in the world may have decided to stop using pink slime “meat” in their products, but the federal government is more than happy to feed it to school children at lunch time. The Huffington Post reports:

Pink slime — that ammonia-treated meat in a bright Pepto-bismol shade — may have been rejected by fast food joints like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King, but is being brought in by the tons for the nation’s school lunch program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is purchasing 7 million pounds of the “slime” for school lunchesThe Daily reports. Officially termed “Lean Beef Trimmings,” the product is a ground-up combination of beef scraps, cow connective tissues and other beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. It’s then blended into traditional meat products like ground beef and hamburger patties.

We originally called it soylent pink,” microbiologist Carl Custer, who worked at the Food Safety Inspection Service for 35 years, told The Daily. “We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Custer and microbiologist Gerald Zernstein concluded in a study that the trimmings are a “high risk product,” but Zernstein tells The Daily that “scientists in D.C. were pressured to approve this stuff with minimal safety approval” under President George H.W. Bush’s administration. The USDA asserts that its ground beef purchases “meet the highest standard for food safety.”

Of course it does. And who sets those standards? The USDA does. Maybe if there was some fluoride in it, we could get the wingnuts involved.

Comments

  1. michaeld says

    So how does it compare to ground beef? I have to admit I’m not terribly fond of this post as it focuses more on the emotional aspects of pink slime and not the nutritional aspects which are more relevant.

  2. sqlrob says

    Maybe if there was some fluoride in it, we could get the wingnuts involved.

    Just spread the rumor that there could be. Let their natural gullibility take over from there.

  3. says

    michaeld –

    Did you read the post? There was this:

    “We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.” (from a USDA microbiologist)

    And this:

    Custer and microbiologist Gerald Zernstein concluded in a study that the trimmings are a “high risk product,” but Zernstein tells The Daily that “scientists in D.C. were pressured to approve this stuff with minimal safety approval” under President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

    So it is not actually meat or the nutritional equivalent of meat and it’s safety is dubious at best. Indeed I am not actually seeing anything emotional about it. All I see is a post that asserts that fast food restaurants (infamous for using the very lowest acceptable quality meats) have rejected it, that USDA scientists don’t believe it is nutritionally sound, and that it is likely unsafe.

  4. Who Knows? says

    With the current attitude of fuck you, I’ve got mine of many Americans these days and attacks on our education system including the school lunch programs. What do you expect?

    It wouldn’t suprise me if someone tries to classify ketchup pickle relish as a vegetables again. Especially if a Republican wins in 2012.

  5. KG says

    Seems like a good way to encourage a BSE-type outbreak: ammonium hydroxide won’t degrede prions, and they gather in lymphatic tissue.

  6. michaeld says

    @DuWayne

    I read it I’d just like to see the numbers. What does not nutritionally equivalent mean? Does it have no nutritional value? Half the value? To me its kind of weaselly I’d just actually like to hear (possibly from a dietitian and not a microbiologist) what the actual nutritional value is. Its a number its out there somewhere someone can look it up. Its the kind of thing that ticks me off in journalism that there are obvious questions left unanswered. Why are journalists getting paid for this kind of half assed work.

    As to the emotional elements its compared to pepto bismol, slime, and soylent green. None of which sound appetizing and are just there for the emotional impact. Its like the term frankenfood it doesn’t add anything to the piece but emotional impact.

    To be clear, I agree with the article but I dislike the execution. I give it a 3/5 an average job of what goes for reporting these days.

  7. says

    “I read it I’d just like to see the numbers. What does not nutritionally equivalent mean? Does it have no nutritional value? Half the value? To me its kind of weaselly I’d just actually like to hear (possibly from a dietitian and not a microbiologist) what the actual nutritional value is. Its a number its out there somewhere someone can look it up.”

    Not as likely as you might think. A lot of the information that IS out there is only available to those in the industry or to people willing to pay for subscriptions to various scientific journals. Additionally, the gummint, in some cases, and the food industry (nearly always) is less than “transparent” (or even translucent) on such matters. The media doesn’t always have a science savvy reporter on the payroll when something like this pops up.

    When somebody who worked for the gummint, in the field of food safety, for 35 years pitches a bitch I would take an interest.

  8. michaeld says

    @democommie

    I’d like to think that a dietitian or someone in the FDA has access to the information in journals or the industry. You don’t get marks in my book for a vague statement with no evidence that you even tried to look up the values.

    As to the lack of science savy reporters I know this is a problem right now and you know what tough. Finding such information goes along with the image of the investigative reporter asking questions and getting to the bottom of things. That’s the highly praised archetype of the good reporter. I’d like to think that no matter your field of reporting you’re smart enough to try to ask some questions and do some digging. You don’t get a free pass from my criticisms because science wasn’t your normal area of reporting. If a handyman does a sketchy job fixing my plumping they don’t get to escape by criticisms of the job because they’re normally a carpenter.

    Lastly if someone with 35 years of experience is saying something wrong I’d also take interest. However that doesn’t mean I can’t expect some more digging and investigation presented.

  9. says

    Micheald –

    Its like the term frankenfood it doesn’t add anything to the piece but emotional impact.

    Not true. Peptobismol is a description of the color, slime a description of the consistency. Soylent was the word used by a quoted USDA microbiologist, not the author of the post or the quoted piece.

    What does not nutritionally equivalent mean?

    Exactly what it says – it doesn’t contain the nutritional content of the meat it is supposed to be an additive to. The problem is – no matter what the actual nutritional value is, it is not what the finished product claims to be. In point of fact, connective tissue contains roughly 50-60% of the quality of proteins in muscle tissue. There is a whole spectrum of essential amino acids that are completely missing. My guess would be that this information wasn’t included in the quote because the scientist being quoted isn’t allowed to be that specific. I found the numbers because I have institutional access to a lot of journals.

    Of course it is likely enough that they can be found elsewhere online as well, but ultimately the numbers are not terribly useful. They do nothing to make the point – which is that this additive is not nutritionally equivalent to what it claims to be. Knowing the specifics doesn’t change that and is not important to a lot of people. For those who are interested, it is easy enough to do a little more research.

    (possibly from a dietitian and not a microbiologist)

    Where do you think dietitians get the numbers they work with?

  10. michaeld says

    I’m still ok with comparing pink slime to franken food. Maybe the peptobismol is a personal thing I find it quite unappetizing. If I compare a brunettes hair to the color of excrement the comparison can still be true aswell as being off putting and not terribly relevant.

    My point with not nutritionally equivalent is that if I had food A and food B. They are full of nutrients vitamins etc but food B has 10% less iron. These are also not nutritionally equivalent but the distinction is less so than compareing food A and food B where food B has 5% of all the nutrients of food A. To me I dislike seeing more abstract terms and prefer to see more specifics.

    I see you include numbers that you managed to look up from some literature. Great thats all I wanted to see in the article.

    I assume dieticians get their information from the scientific literature from scientists doing research on the nutritional value of food. “Microbiologists investigate the growth and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae, or fungi.” from wiki. My only point in that line was that a dietitian should be familiar with the literature and how to find such values as this is not strictly the per view of a microbiologist. While I could ask PZ about metabolism and he’s very likely to give me the proper information if you’re going to quote someone it just looks better if it is someone directly in the area of interest.

  11. michaeld says

    I wish i could edit that last comment to add this but owell double post. From the article:

    “We originally called it soylent pink,” microbiologist Carl Custer, who worked at the Food Safety Inspection Service for 35 years, told The Daily.

    Yes the author didn’t write it but they included that line. What does it add other then an emotional appeal.

    To compare if an article had a section on a politician that went:

    “We used to call him little stalin” political analyst Bob Jones, who’s been a examining Frank’s the policies at the Cato institute for 26 years, told the Daily.

    I just made it up and switched a bit but the reporter for the daily included that quote but it doesn’t add anything to the piece except as an emotional appeal. It doesn’t help that the reporter didn’t say it they still included it as relevant when editing their interview results.

  12. says

    “I found the numbers because I have institutional access to a lot of journals.”

    Exactly. Not something that a lot of folks, including a “journalist” might have access to.

    michaeld:

    I’m guessing that “nutritionally equivalent” would mean something VERY different to a microbiologist than it would to you or me. And I’m also guessing that such a person would not be making a public statement if that difference was negligible. The gummint and industry can always furnish all the information to rebut the claim by Huffpost.

  13. says

    I understand some of michaeld’s criticism. While the information we’re given does suggest the “pink slime” is a bad idea, the article could stand some improvement to let us know more about how bad it is. Solid numbers would make the issue more concrete.

    “Pepto Bismol” does convey a widely recognized color, but that phrase has an association with illness for many people, since Pepto treats upset stomachs, so while it may be an accurate description of the color, it’s also manipulative. Being a skeptic means being aware of that sort of thing, even if it’s being used to manipulate people towards a rational action.

  14. michaeld says

    Journalists are paid to ask questions and research their stories. If you can pull up a few numbers in a few minutes. I’d like to think a reporter can ask someone with maybe some more science experience to pull them up for them even if they aren’t good at finding it themselves. They can dig up what presidential candidates have said in years past I think they can find someone to get them a few nutritional numbers from the literature. Just needs a little effort.

    Also I agree that a microbiologist probably have more specific definitions and I’d tend to agree that it probably is a significant difference. I just like seeing some data some numbers for myself. I’m sure PR machines etc can do their thing afterwards all I wanted was one line “A study by/the FDA reports … found…compared to conventional ground beef”. Its a small thing I just prefer seeing a few numbers over words.

    Its just my preference which affects my opinion of the story. I’m honestly a bit surprised people wanted to argue about my opinion on a bit of science reporting.

  15. says

    I doubt it’s dangerous the issue is that it’s generally not considered to taste very good and is less nutritious than ground beef. Schools lunches get the scraps.

  16. says

    My point with not nutritionally equivalent is that if I had food A and food B. They are full of nutrients vitamins etc but food B has 10% less iron. These are also not nutritionally equivalent but the distinction is less so than compareing food A and food B where food B has 5% of all the nutrients of food A.

    In terms of food additives, it has to be a significant difference in the nutritional value that the food in question should possess. In other words, if we’re talking about an important source of iron, a difference of ten percent would be a problem. If, on the other hand, we’re talking about something that is primarily a source of carbs and fiber, that difference doesn’t matter. Even in the case of a protein source, having say, 85-90% of the protein of the actual food is unlikely to be a problem, as long as the finished product contains the protein it claims. On the other hand, if you are missing key essential proteins – even if the volume meets or exceeds, it isn’t nutritionally equivalent – though a simple assay would likely indicate it is.

    My only point in that line was that a dietitian should be familiar with the literature and how to find such values as this is not strictly the per view of a microbiologist.

    A dietitian is less likely to know the ins and outs of a specific product that has been approved by the USDA, than a scientist who was on the team that actually studied said product for the USDA (and which team recommended against it’s use for safety and nutritional reasons).

  17. michaeld says

    That’s fine again I just wanted to see the numbers. I really don’t know that we’re getting anywhere on this point you’re happy with the words I’d have liked to have seen some numbers.

    There was no quote on numbers from our microbiologist thus: it was said but not included in which I wish that quote had been included, the journalist didn’t ask in which case a problem in itself in my mind of not pursuing the issue a step further , or they didn’t have them at the time in which case a dietitian would be my next suggestion as someone who would know where to look or at least who to ask.

    I think we’ve about picked this down to the bone. I still would have preferred to see some numbers over or in addition to the words but you’re ok with words and leaving the values in the literature somewhere. Unless you have a drastically different argument or point to bring up I don’t think we’re going to get any further on this issue.

  18. Pinky says

    I wonder why irradiation isn’t used instead of ammonium hydroxide to sterilize the beef?

    ◄►◄►◄►◄►◄►◄►◄►◄►◄►◄►

    Of course it does. And who sets those standards? The USDA does.

    After reading “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” (2002, by Eric Schlosser – ISBN 0-06-083858-2) I am not impressed with USDA’s dedication to protect the public safety. In his book, Schlosser claimed the USDA was effectively a house organ of the meat packing industry.

  19. says

    Schlosser claimed the USDA was effectively a house organ of the meat packing industry.

    That can’t be true. If they were an organ, they’d have ended up in the meat. ;)

    Anyways, I do sympathize with michaeld’s point (though not with this grammar). We shouldn’t base our decision just on what sounds gross. Pretty much any food you eat can be made do sound gross or dangerous. Remember the “arsenic in apple juice” scare from a while back?

    What matters is what the science says, and whether that science is good or not. I think michaeld is right to point out that the FluffPo articles seems to be more focused on using gross or scary sounding rhetoric, when it should (ideally) spend some time talking about the numbers.

    But michaeld should have clicked through to the New York Times article linked in the FluffPo article, where the numbers are discussed, but not very well:

    But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

    School lunch officials said that in some years Beef Products testing results were worse than many of the program’s two dozen other suppliers, which use traditional meat processing methods. From 2005 to 2009, Beef Products had a rate of 36 positive results for salmonella per 1,000 tests, compared to a rate of nine positive results per 1,000 tests for the other suppliers, according to statistics from the program. Beef Products said its testing regime was more likely to detect contamination.

    The first paragraph is useless information. 51 infected batches out of how many? If it’s out of 100 it’s horrible. If it’s out of 100,000 it’s not that big of a deal. It’s impossible to completely avoid contamination 100%, so we should expect SOME infected batches no matter how good our decontamination process is. If the infected batches are extremely rare, that’s good enough.

    The second paragraph is better, but it doesn’t follow up with any investigation as to what the differences in the testing process are and whether the Beef Products claim is true. That would have been useful information. But at least they gave the sample size, and pointed out that the Beef Products batches had 4 times the contamination rate, which is worrying. If only they’d followed up with that claim about the testing procedure.

  20. Ichthyic says

    Solid numbers would make the issue more concrete.

    bullshit.

    it’s clearly stated it’s made from connective tissue, unless you’re completely dense, you know that connective tissue is not the equivalent of muscle tissue.

    what’s more, to make this product safe, it has to be treated with FUCKING AMMONIA.

    and you clowns are whinging about statistics?

    wow.

  21. dingojack says

    Ichthyic – *ahem* –

    “Officially termed “Lean Beef Trimmings,” the product is a ground-up combination of beef scraps, cow connective tissues and other beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens like salmonella and E. coli.”
    [Emphasis mine]

    Dingo

  22. michaeld says

    @Ichthyic

    Unless you’re completely dense you’ll know that tofu is not the equivalent of muscle tissue. See my common sense tells me that plant material shouldn’t be a good substitute for meat but there’s data that it seems to make a good one. My common sense also tells me that connective tissue probably isn’t an equivalent for muscle tissue I’d just like to see the data that supports that cause I know that my knowledge isn’t perfect and I make mistakes.

    For clarification ammonia is NH3 which is not the same as ammonium hydroxide is NH4OH. However in water it will form an equilibrium of ammonia NH3 and ammonium NH4+ so it ends up being more of a minor quibble. However I don’t find your complaint that you have to treat it with ammonia to make it safe matters in the grand scheme of things. I find it doubtful that ammonia is the only treatment that would make it safe its probably just the most economical or some other factor. Your point mostly comes down to an emotional appeal the exact same thing I said I didn’t like about this argument or issue. There are people who think this method might not be as safe as suggested and that would have been a better move to make. You instead focus on the fact that it is being ammonia. This is as absurd a route of argument as claiming that the food is horrible because it has to be treated radiation to become safe.

    @Wes

    Yes I know my grammar and spelling skills suck just be happy chrome has a built in spell checker otherwise you’d really have more to complain about. :P

    As to clicking through to the New york times article I’ll call that irrelevant to my criticism of the huffpo piece which is all my opinion and subsequent arguments were about. I work under the teacher marking system, your homework doesn’t get marks because your sources did a better job if its not in the report it doesn’t get marked. That being said nice to see another source at least trying to bring out some of the numbers even if they lack some context. I’m probably on the exact same side of this issue as everyone else here I just don’t think the huffpo piece was a good job or reporting on it.

  23. michaeld says

    @ Azkyroth

    Wait I could be getting paid for this? DAMNIT! Mass effect 3 just came out and I could really use some money to buy it without dipping into my savings…

    Nope I’m not paid and I’d be interested to know what if anything I said was disinformation? I’ve been saying in a nut shell is 1) I don’t like the prevalence of emotional appeals in the article (calling it pink slime etc) 2) I’d have liked to have seen some numbers on either its nutritional value or its safety instead of just having someone say something about it.Argue based on the merits not the emotions and show your data.

    I don’t think any of that is disinformation and I’d say it falls inline with basic skepticism.

    PS if anyone reading this would like to hire me to be they’re paid goon I’m currently unemployed and come with a bachelors in biochemistry. Send all job offers to 555-….

  24. says

    “PS if anyone reading this would like to hire me to be they’re paid goon I’m currently unemployed and come with a bachelors in biochemistry. Send all job offers to 555-….”

    Try Huffpo, since you think that they need to do exactly what you’re complaining that they don’t do.

    BTW, with a bachelor’s degree in biochem why don’t YOU know more about this situation. Why are you asking for information instead of running it down with your own sciency googlefu?

    When I think of pepto bismol, I think of a preparation that contains some stuff that probably tastes nasty without the masking flavor of cherry and the “soothing” pinkness of whatever the hell they put in it to get that color.

    I found this very helpful website (http://pinkslimeisamyth.com/) which, like, totally debunks the pinkslimemyth. It’s funded by a group named BPI–I’m sure that they’re unbiased.

    This report–http://efoodalert.net/2012/03/08/whats-wrong-with-pink-slime/–by a bunchacommiegardeners is not as sanguine. I don’t know what their bias is, Sorosmoney?

  25. michaeld says

    Why do people keep thinking I’m in favor of this stuff >.>

    For the record I’m not terribly in favor of lean beef trimmings in food. I just didn’t like the way the huffington post framed the article. I could indeed google the information but I wasn’t even asking anyone here for it. I just didn’t like the huffington post’s piece that’s it that’s all I’ve been saying. I’m actually surprised that so many people want to argue about this. I guess it was naive to assume that calling a story on the huffington post mediocre and wanting in details was somehow worthy of argument.

    PS The previous PS was a joke.

  26. says

    Michaeld:

    Huffpost is teh suck. That’s not my point. If pinkslime was as yummy and nutritious as they say it is, why work so hard at not letting folks know that it’s in their food? I cosider Huffpo to somewhere along the arc between “Totally dishonest” (Whirled Nuts Daily), “Mostly dishonest” (the editorial policy and, especially, the editorial page of the WSJ) and “Basically honest but needs work in the area of journalistic style” (News of the World, The National Enquirer and “The Racing Form”). I’m sure that you think I’m joking; I wish I knew.

  27. michaeld says

    See I think this is the problem we’re arguing at a cross purpose. Lean beef trimmings probably are not as yummy or nutritious as they say or would like. That was never my point, I just didn’t like how the huffpost article was written. All I’ve ever been claiming was I would have preferred a deeper investigation with more facts and numbers in the article. The emotional appeals wouldn’t even bother me if there was more of that.

  28. llewelly says

    It wouldn’t suprise me if someone tries to classify ketchup pickle relish as a vegetables again

    Oh, but that’s not nearly so bad. Ketchup pickle relish is made of corn syrup, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a few other things. Now you could argue that corn is a grain, and tomatoes and cucumbers are fruits, and I would agree with you, but for the most part it is actually quite similar to real vegetables nutritionally, as long as you’re like me and you put corn syrup on your broccoli.

  29. llewelly says

    PS if anyone reading this would like to hire me to be they’re paid goon I’m currently unemployed and come with a bachelors in biochemistry.

    Keep looking, and don’t give up hope – there are companies who will hire technical writers to work along side their biochemists.

  30. dingojack says

    llewelly – Corn syrup, Artemisia root and the fruits of Juniper go into gin…
    :) Dingo

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