Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are telling news sources that schools that participate in the national school lunch program will soon have the choice to opt out of ground beef that's been mixed with ammonia-treated filler and dubbed "pink slime" by food safety and nutrition critics. The Associated Press reports:
Under the change, schools will be able to choose between 95 percent lean beef patties made with the product or less lean bulk ground beef without it. The change won't kick in immediately because of existing contracts, according to a USDA official with knowledge of the decision.
Though the term "pink slime" has been used pejoratively for at least several years, it wasn't until last week that social media suddenly exploded with worry and an online petition seeking its ouster from schools. The petition quickly garnered hundreds of thousands of supporters.
The low-cost ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 F and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product, made by South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., also is exposed to "a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas" to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.
The department said it continues to affirm the safety of the ammonia-treated lean finely textured beef as a filler, but that it wanted to be transparent and that school districts wanted choices.
Some politicians, including Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, are urging the Agriculture department to ban the product altogether. "The beef industry sent my office an email the other day describing pink slime as `wholesome and nutritious' and said the process for manufacturing it is `similar to separating milk from cream.' I don't think a highly processed slurry of meat scraps mixed with ammonia is what most families would think of as `wholesome and nutritious,'" Pingree told the AP in a written statement.
Image: Teens having school lunch, via Shutterstock.