I have started to branch out with my writing career. This is an article of mine recently published in the Nevada Rancher. The magazine isn't on line and I've had a few requests for this article, so I thought I would share it here! Enjoy!
Recently on a social media site there was a post claiming that a certain fast food chain “is changing the recipe for their hamburgers.” Jaime Oliver (a British chef/media personality who has made it his mission to prevent the use of processed foods in our American school systems), claims “the fatty parts of beef are “washed” in ammonium hydroxide and used in the filling of their hamburgers.” He calls this the “Pink Slime Process.”
When heifers make weight they will be shipped to the feedlot to finish and then to a harvesting facility. Before being portioned, they are misted with ammonium hydroxide to prevent bacterial growth.
There is no “pink slime” in hamburgers. The correct term is Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). LFTB is lean meat that is used in part to make ground beef. Ground beef is made up of lean beef trimmings and other beef trimmings that are combined and ground together. The benefit of LFTB is that the fat from the lean in the beef trimmings is separated from the meat and we are able to make a leaner and more affordable ground beef.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to trim the meat from the fat by hand. This is where technology comes in. Before this technology was utilized, roughly 13 pounds of beef was wasted on each carcass. When beef carcasses are portioned, the pieces that are cut off often have lean meat remaining. It is virtually impossible (not to mention time consuming) to manually remove the meat from the fat by hand. To separate the fat from the meat, the trimmings are warmed to their pre-chilled temperature, and then sent to a centrifuge where the fat is removed using a centrifugal force (think spun really really fast until the meat and the fat separate, similar to how milk and cream are separated). You now have a meat product that is 94% to 97% lean. It is 100% beef and fully inspected and regulated by the USDA.
Ammonium Hydroxide is another phrase that is used to scare people. You know ammonia is used in several household cleaning agents and fertilizers. It is toxic and if mixed with bleach a toxic gas will result. Did you know that ammonium hydroxide is naturally found in beef, other proteins, and virtually all foods? So what is ammonium hydroxide? Ammonium hydroxide is a combination of ammonia and water, two things that naturally occur in our bodies. It is administered in the form of a puff gas which is misted over each carcass, and is used to slightly raise the pH on the surface of beef (where bacteria and germs like to congregate) to create an environment that prevents the growth of deadly pathogens like E coli and salmonella, helping to prevent bacterial contamination of our food.
Ammonia based compounds are naturally occurring and found in every component of a bacon cheese burger. In fact, the beef in a bacon cheese burger makes up about 9% of the total 2,013 ppm (parts per million) of ammonium hydroxide in that burger. It is estimated that people ingest about 17 grams of ammonia daily. Essentially you could consume 1,000 hamburger patties containing LFTB daily without any adverse effects.
Ammonia based compounds are naturally occurring and can be found in every component of a bacon cheeseburger (bun, bacon, cheese, condiments, and beef).
According to the World Health Organization, the world population is increasing by 220,000 people every day. Red meat consumption is rising and the available supply is declining. LFTB production makes it possible to have more of the leaner ground beef blends consumers want at an affordable price. If LFTB were not produced, it would be equivalent to throwing 5,700 cattle away each day. In an era where thousands of Americans do not have access to enough food and we are encouraged to conserve our resources, utilizing lean finely textured beef makes a lot of sense to me.