Fast food companies including McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell are no longer serving burgers made with “pink slime,” a filler of low-grade beef treated with bacteria-killing ammonium hydroxide.
Widely used in fast food and school lunch meals, the filler product made headlines earlier this year when food activist and chef Jamie Oliver denounced it on his show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” saying: “Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold at the cheapest form for dogs and after this process we can give it to humans.”
Oliver was referring to a method developed by Beef Products Inc. (BFI) of Dakota Dunes, S.D. that uses beef from carcass trimmings and treat it with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria.
The meat industry uses a variety of chemicals including ammonium hydroxide to kill potentially lethal pathogens at various stages of processing. So, while pink slime may be high on the gross out factor, it serves a purpose, according to Nancy Donley, who co-founded the consumer advocacy group STOP Foodborne Illness in 1993 after her child was fatally poisoned by a tainted fast food burger.
Vaccines for pathogens such as E.coli and Salmonella have been slow getting to market and many beef producers have resisted taking the initiative to prevent bacteria from getting into their animals, said Donley, who serves on a board that advises the U.S. Agriculture Department on food safety.
BFI’s founder Eldon Roth says the bottom line is that the process works. “We have never had an illness that’s been traced to us. That’s an unprecedented food safety record,” he said.