Recently, social media outlets (e.g., Facebook) and news media have discussed “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB), which has unfortunately been labeled “pink slime.” Many Americans are left wondering if LFTB is safe. The answer is yes, LFTB is safe.
What is Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB)?
LFTB is a beef product that results from using food processing equipment to separate the small, irregular-shaped pieces of lean meat from fat trimmings left over after larger roasts, steaks, and other cuts are removed from a beef carcass.
Are these products regulated and inspected?
Yes. LFTB is beef, and all beef products are strictly regulated and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). LFTB products have a 20-year excellent food safety record.
How are these lean beef trimmings processed?
The trimmings are first heated to about 100°F to soften and separate the fat from the meat. The lean meat is then treated with a puff of food-grade ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria. The result is a very low fat (95+% lean) beef product that is added to foods such as ground beef, sausage, and lunch meats.
Is it true that these trimmings previously were used only for pet food and oil and were unfit for human consumption, as one media outlet claimed?
Trimmings were used for pet food and oil. Advancements in food processing technology 20 years ago, however, facilitated the recovery of a high quality protein that had previously been used in pet food. Recovery of this protein makes more efficient use of our limited food supply and contributes to a more sustainable food system.
Why is ammonia used to produce lean finely textured beef?
Food grade ammonium hydroxide (basically ammonia + water) differs from household ammonia used in cleaning products. Ammonium hydroxide, FDA approved since 1974, is used in many food products such as puddings, gelatins, cheese, breakfast cereals, egg products, and baked goods, and can occur naturally in food.
Because they are ground up, ground or blended beef products carry a higher risk for foodborne pathogens to be introduced throughout the product, making them less likely to be killed during cooking compared with those on the surface of wholemuscle cuts.
A puff of the ammonium hydroxide gas is used in the processing of LFTB to raise the pH and help control harmful bacteria that may be present. These bacteria could make someone ill if the product were not cooked thoroughly.
When any form of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is blended into ground beef, will it be labeled?
Because it is 100% beef, LFTB is not singled out as a separate ingredient on ground beef packages. Beef is beef.
What do the experts say about its safety?
Experts such as Dr. Gary Acuff at Texas A&M University and Dr. John Floros at Pennsylvania State University have examined these products and say that all forms of lean finely textured beef are safe when produced in compliance with USDA regulations.
What do the food safety data show?
USDA data show that the incidence of E. coli in fresh ground beef has been declining significantly over the past decade. The number of USDA ground beef samples testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 dropped 55 percent between 2000 and 2010. Lean finely textured beef products have been a part of that success story.
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