July 26, 2014

Most School Districts Opt Out of Pink Slime

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), most school districts are ordering ground beef without added “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB), popularly known as pink slime. The school districts opt out of pink slime because the government gave them a choice this spring.

Only three states have ordered LFTB-enhanced ground beef through the National School Lunch Program: Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Those orders total 1,000,000 pounds as of May 18, 2012. More than 20,000,000 pounds of ground beef without LFTB have been ordered.

South Dakota is the state where Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the company that created LFTB, is located. Iowa’s Governor Branstad sent a letter to all Iowa school districts asking them to order ground beef containing LFTB.

After the story broke that LFTB, which is made by heating, centrifuging, and treating fatty beef trim to capture lean tissue, was routinely added to ground beef, consumer groups and consumers were outraged. The USDA has confirmed that the product is safe, but many consumers did not want to feed their families a product that was highly processed.

Beef trim is more likely to contain pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli 0157:H7 and other STEC bacteria, so LFTB is treated with ammonia before it is frozen, packed, and shipped. Some politicians claimed that LFTB is an “important tool in the fight against childhood obesity”, but our calculations proved that the product only saves about 18 calories per serving, not a significant amount.

As a result of the controversy, BPI Inc. has closed three of its four plants in May 2012, and ground beef processor AFA Foods declared bankruptcy in April 2012.


  1. In the interest of full disclosure, I will start off buy stating I work in beef production and have first hand knowledge of how “pink slime” or Lean Finely Textured Beef, as it correctly known, is produced.

    While I fully support the rights of all, whether it be grocers, restaurants, or schools, to choose what forms of ground beef they offer, I cannot help but believe these choices may be being made based on inaccurate information portrayed in the media. The beef trimmings used to make LFTB must meet the same USDA inspection standards as those used to make ground beef. The only difference between the trimmings used to make ground beef, as we the consumer recognizes it, and the trimmings used to make LFTB is the lean beef to fat ratio. LFTB starts by using higher fat trimmings containing no bones, no tendons, and no organs. To achieve the higher lean ground beef that we all desire economically, the lean is separated from the fat and the lean is added back into the ground beef. The process of separating lean from fat is accomplished with centrifugal force similar to separating cream from milk.

    There have been countless food safety and food science experts come forward in support of this product. I have yet to see a single expert come forward to say this product is anything but safe and nutritious.

    Given my field of work, my beliefs may be construed as bias, but they are just that, my beliefs and do not reflect the official standings of any others.

    • Linda Larsen says:

      Safe, yes, except for the 51 batches that tested positive for Salmonella and E. coli since 2005. LFTB was exempted from E. coli testing in 2007, which turned out to be a mistake.

      We also don’t know that the ammonia treatment is perfectly safe. Raising the pH of meat with ammonia accelerates the Maillard reaction, which produces toxic by-products. LFTB has never been tested for any toxins. The ammonia used to make it is classified as a “processing aid”, not an additive, so testing is not required. This is information I got from Dr. Ted Labuza, professor of Food Science at the University of Minnesota.

      It also does not save many calories at all per serving. The lesson in all of this is that food companies cannot expect the public to accept all processed foods.

  2. I am not sure where you came up with “51 batches” information. According to a statement from Dr. Elisabeth Hagan, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, LFTB has been sampled by FSIS over 7000 times in the past 3 years without once testing positive for pathogens. My understanding is that Beef Products Inc has a strick “Hold and Test” program. Each box is sampled and no product is shipped until a negative test result has been received from an independent lab. According to foodinsight.org after extensive study, ammonia as a processing aide has been “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) since 1974. If I understand the materials I’ve reviewed (I look very closely as the credibility of each) ammonia either exist naturally or as a processing aide in a very long list of foods.

    • Linda Larsen says:

      The “51 batches” came from the New York Times article I cited: “Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August 2009 in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.”

      And I know ammonia is GRAS. That doesn’t mean it IS safe; GRAS ingredients such as BHA and BHT have been removed from that list. My point is that no one has studied the potential toxins in LFTB that is treated with ammonia because it’s classified as a processing aid. Until that testing is done, I am skeptical.

  3. I do not see where you cited any New York Times Article. If you are referring to the link in the first comment, It does not work. Here is a correction printed in the New York Times on Jan 12, 2010.
    “An editorial on Sunday mischaracterized the safety record of ground meat produced by Beef Products Inc. The editorial said incorrectly that two 27,000-pound batches of processed beef had been recalled. The contamination of the meat was discovered by the company in its plant before the beef was shipped. No meat produced by Beef Products Inc. has been linked to any illnesses or outbreaks.”
    I can share links with you all day long with the most accredited food safety expert supporting LFTB. Again, I have yet to see any expert say it is anything but safe and nutritious.

    • Linda Larsen says:

      The link works now. And I stand by the claim of 51 batches contaminated. The beef WAS contaminated; it was not recalled because the contamination was discovered before it was shipped. That’s just semantics.

      And my expert said we do not know if it is safe. That’s the point. Test it to see.

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