See? The Ammonia in Pink Slime is a Good Thing!

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It is not clear that Pink Slime has ever made anyone sick, but Tuna Scrapings certainly have. The difference? Chemical treatment of the former but not the latter, apparently.

The way that food is produced and processed in our industrialized society virtually grantees that much of it would be poisonous to some degree because of spoiling before it gets to our kitchens. However, the food industry has all sorts of ways of avoiding that, ranging from freezing to heating to radiation to various chemical and physical treatments. The ammonia treatment associated with the Pink Slime Maneno of recent weeks is probably not only pretty safe, but also makes Pink Slime less likely to be spoiled by bacteria. (One could say, and this is an oversimplification, that Ammonia simulates bacteria waste …. poop/piss …. and that being bathed in their own byproduct is deadly for them. But I digress.) Untreated Pink Slime could be a very very bad thing if it was included in all the beef products that this substance found its way into prior to the collapse of the Pink Slime Industry.

Please note, by the way, that Ammonia is not the only treatment used to make Pink Slime. In some cases, citric acid is used. The point is, really, to alter the pH of the product.

I’m not saying that I like the whole Pink Slime thing. Yes, it is good to extract all the food you can out of the various sources we rely on, and tossing the trimmings is wasteful. Having said that, there are two things I don’t like about Pink Slime, and both are simply possible concerns, not demonstrated to be true. One is that this is the end product not only in terms of accessibility but also in terms of time. So, the meat has been off the hoof, as it were, for the longest when it gets to this point. Freshness is to some degree obviated. (Thus the chemical treatment, I suppose.) The second thing I don’t like about it, and I repeat that this is not a demonstrated concern, is that power washing axial skeletal tissue of a bovid could, it seems, expose neural tissue and allow some of that into the Pink Slime. That this could happen would make me mad. As it were.

Anyway, Pink Slime, treated with Ammonium hydroxide (which is what the Ammonia gas turns into when it hits the water in the slime), is safer than Pink Slime not so treated, even if power-sprayed meat residue from discarded cattle bones washed down with simulated bacteria piss sounds unappetizing. This is possibly underscored by the fact that the Tuna Fish equivalent of Pink Slime, Tuna Scrape, is not routinely treated with ammonia or citric acid. Here we have a handy dandy animation comparing the two products:

From The Raw Story:

A ground fish product known as “tuna scrape,” imported to the United States from India, was blamed Monday for a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 116 people, US health authorities said.

The illnesses are being linked to Nakaochi Scrape, or tuna backmeat, “which is specifically scraped off from the bones, and looks like a ground product,” said the US Food and Drug Administration.

Many of the people who became ill reported eating raw tuna in sushi as “spicy tuna,” the FDA said, adding that illnesses had been tracked to 20 states and had caused 12 hospitalizations but no deaths.

One thing you should know, and this may be the most interesting outcome of the whole Pink Slime thing, is that most, possibly all, of the companies that produce Pink Slime are either shutting down their production or, if that is the main thing they had been doing, are simply closing down. If an irrational reaction to a perfectly good process of making food caused all those people to lose their jobs, that is bad. On the other and, there may be valid concerns about Pink Slime, and if indeed Big Food in combination with the USDA has brushed real concerns under the rug (where they will later be collected and added to cereal, I suppose) then that is perhaps an even bigger concern.

One thing is certain: Pink Slime is special. In the food industry, a product like this would normally be called something different than just “100% UDSA approved beef” … the term “salvage” comes to mind, for instance. And, the USDA scientists and administrators fought over this and did not agree. At least one person who pushed for calling Pink Slime meat and not some other label was hired by the Pink Slime industry and apparently has done fairly well there.

If they are going to make Pink Slime, they need to treat it with chemicals to make it safe, but they also need to call it what it is and tell us when they are using it. Meanwhile, consumers have to be more thoughtful and intelligent about what they go ballistic about. And, consumers should have easy access to the information they need to have to be rational about it all, unadulterated by corporate self interest and regulatory butt-covering.

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8 thoughts on “See? The Ammonia in Pink Slime is a Good Thing!

  1. I want my Pink Slime to be labelled: “Chief Selection 100% Pure Angus Beef”.

    Or I’ll go back to buying good ole tasty baloney.

  2. _Arthur, what do you mean by untracable? As to the source? It is manufactured by a small subset of companies (or was, I should say) so by default it is very traceable, I would think. .. I might be misunderstanding you.

    The article to which you refer points out some real problems but this has little to do wit the pink slime issue or with chemical treatments. Also, “trimmings” does not = “Pink slime”

  3. The big problem I have with the pink slime is that connective tissues aren’t the nutritional equivalent of actual beef. There are essential proteins missing and the total proteins don’t match, weight for weight with muscle tissue. I will admit that I am somewhat disgusted by it, so that might be coloring my view on this. But given that the scientists the USDA had investigate this were skeptical of it’s safety and viability, I expect I am not being unreasonable.

    I want it out of the school lunches my child eats.

  4. GL, it is impossible to trace to a particular cow, or a particular shipment, or a particular slaughterhouse shift.
    The fat trimmings from many locations are pooled together, treated into LFTB (Lean Finely Textured Beef, aka Pink Slime), and then shipped back to be added to hamburger patties.

    The meat industry has made great strides towards traceability of meat shipments, and it all goes to naught as soon pink slime is involved.

    So, yes, they better wash it real good with ammonia.

  5. _Arthur, you are conflating more than one process. However, having said that, yes, I think you are correct. The power-washed “pink slime” as well as other trimmings comes from multiple cattle and you can’t separate them. Theoretically you could, but it wouldn’t be cheap any more. Nonetheless, it should be easy to keep supply houses separate with proper regulation.

  6. I hunt and when I butcher my dear, elk or game animals I give all that yukky stuff to the dogs they love it and given I have no idea what kind of pink slime substances may be included in dog food I’ll continue to feed the dogs as little of that slimey secreted mucous as possible thank you.

  7. Ammonia gas Which is the one of the most commonly produced industrial chemicals. It is used in industry and commerce. Ammonia gas is essential for many biological processes and serves as a precursor for amino acid and nucleotide synthesis. In the environment, ammonia is part of the nitrogen cycle and is produced in soil from bacterial processes. Ammonia is also produced naturally from decomposition of organic matter, including plants, animals and animal wastes.

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