The Real Deal with 'Pink Slime'


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  81 comments   :  36,061 Views

If I offered you lean ground beef with the assurance that it was high in protein, low in fat, and tested to be free from Salmonella and E.Coli, wouldn't you think it was the best beef in town (except if you are a vegetarian of course)? Would you think the meat sounded as good if I told you it contained lean meat "trimmings" and had been treated with ammonium hydroxide?
There has been a lot of talk about pink slime in the news recently, even though this isn't new and has been reported about previously. The movie Food, Inc talked about it back in 2008. British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver taught about it on his ABC series Food Revolution several years later. Last year Taco Bell faced a lawsuit and a media firestorm over accusations that they used fillers in their taco meat. So why all the hype now about the use of anti-microbial agents and meat trimmings especially when the USDA has repeatedly cited the process to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) with an update as recently as last year?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Services (USDA FSIS) most recent directive 7120.1 revision 10 dated 1/4/12, "The Table of Safe and Suitable Ingredients identifies the food grade substances that have been approved in 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) for use in meat, poultry, and egg products as food additives." Ammonium hydroxide is listed as an acceptable acidifier/alkalizer without labeling requirements under accepted use conditions.
This video clip from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution outlines the basics of ammonium hydroxide use as an antimicrobial agent on trimmed meat.  

Here are some other facts about ammonia and ammonium hydroxide to keep in mind.
  • Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia (nitrogen + hydrogen = NH3) combined with water. Both compounds are found naturally in the environment (air, water, and soil) as well as in plants, animals, and humans.

  • The FDA affirmed Ammonium Hydroxide as GRAS beginning in 1974. Other international food safety agencies such as The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the European Union have deemed it safe and allowable as well.

  • Many foods use ammonium hydroxide as a direct food additive besides using it as an antimicrobial agent in meat products. It is extensively used in things like baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, and candies such as caramel. The WHO lists hundreds of food types that may use ammonium hydroxide as part of good manufacturing practices and it can be found in a variety of dairy products, baked goods and confections, fruits and vegetables, meats and fish as well as beverages such as sports drinks and beer to name a few. Ammonia in other forms such as ammonium sulfate or ammonium alginate are frequently used in items such as condiments, soy proteins, and snack foods.

  • Many household and industrial cleaners include ammonia as a sanitizing agent in stronger concentrations.
What about the contents of that pink slime, ammonia aside? Meat is muscle, and even premium cuts contain some fat and connective tissue as well. When an animal is butchered, the steaks or roasts are carved up, and the "trimmings" or remaining lean meat (with connective tissue and fat) is sent to a meat processing facility, usually to become ground meat. This has been standard practice (and generally accepted by the nutrition community) since the early 1990s.

When choosing meat, whole cuts (or ground meats made only from whole pieces of meat) are the healthiest choice. Solely from a nutrition standpoint, ground meat trimmings are still a source of high-quality (biologically speaking) protein. However, it's up to each consumer whether they feel comfortable consuming it.

To stretch ground meat further, meat products sold to school cafeterias, restaurants and other public establishments are allowed to include up to 15 percent of the ammonium hydroxide-treated meat trimmings, known as pink slime coloquially. So why haven't you been told about this? There are no labeling or notification requirements when using this type of meat since it is GRAS and part of normal food processing practices. Until recently, as much as an estimated 70 percent of ground meat included ammonium hydroxide-treated meats. Will it continue? Petitions to ban the "pink slime" from schools have accumulated more than 150,000 signatures and counting, and the U.S.D.A. has decided to allow schools to opt out of receiving the meat. (Memphis and Baltimore are among the school districts that don't use it.) Changes are most likely on the horizon, but only time will tell whether it will trickle up or down the "food chain"--from the people to the government or vice versa.
The Bottom Line
It is always good to be informed about how the food you purchase is produced, processed, and presented. It is great that people have become more aware about meat processing policy and the ingredients used. I hope this new awareness will cause people to speak up and challenge not only pink slime but many of the USDA policies that have been ruled safe and yet influence all the foods we purchase. With any luck, people will continue to investigate the additives that are present in their foods and seek other alternatives that allow them to eat as healthy as possible.

Here are some things you can do today to get back to the basics--and away from pink slime ,if that's what you prefer.
What will you do to encourage a sustainable table for your family? What should be done about pink slime and other food practices in our country?

Would you eat 'pink slime'?

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    You wanna know what else is natural? BEARS. - 6/3/2012   11:11:17 PM
    This is extremely disappointing, SP. This artlcle is deceptive, I can not call it anything else. Pink Slime is NOT made from the trimmings of steak and chops. It is made from scraps of meat attached to the intestines. It is seperated from the intestines by centrafugal force, then washed with ammonium hydroxide. It is then washed again to remove the ammonuim hydroxide. This "meat" was used to make dog food. It is this "pink slime" that has been used in our fast food chains since the ninetie. Ground meat that has been trimmed from steaks and chops has made up our "hamburger" since we began butchering. SP you really dropped the ball on this one. - 5/5/2012   4:37:45 PM
    We have the safest, most plentiful and least expensive food supply in the world...and we take it for granted. We are so lucky. - 5/2/2012   1:19:24 PM
  • 78
    Pink Slime is a whole lot better for you than mechanically separated chicken, in terms of nutrition.

    As a fan of lean protein, I'd eat it. - 5/1/2012   9:31:09 PM
    I've eaten alot of hamburger in my life. I like hamburger from the grocery store and I will continue to buy it and eat it. When I first heard the term pink slime, I was grossed but after hearing what it was I'm not afraid. I am low-income and don't buy much, but I will continue to shop our local grocery chain store. - 5/1/2012   5:41:39 PM
  • REBECCA176
    You are not safe by not eating meat. It is used to process other foods as well. - 4/30/2012   9:44:28 PM
  • 75
    My thoughts are this: I do not trust government, nor do I trust media, to tell me what I should eat. Since the additional of food "enhancers," people have developed more illness/diseases, and maladies the cause of which are often inexplicable. The increase coincides with the advent of "new and better" ways to make food "safe." These are my observances. I prefer food that I grow myself. - 4/30/2012   1:22:32 PM
  • 74
    My husband and I usually buy something that looks good and either have the meat department grind it for us or run it thru the food processor at home. That's an option that works for us. - 3/28/2012   2:05:27 PM
  • 73
    I commented on this today my comments were accepted but now they are gone.I do not understand what is going on here. i commented on a different article to this,on his issue today and i do not like to see my comments on a changed article Pat in Maine. I will have to pursue this it is not right. - 3/28/2012   9:56:12 AM
  • 72
    I commented on this issue on 3/22/2012 and this article is NOT what I read on that day.
    On that day it showed a grinder oozing out pink slime. Todays article is different I read it it sounded more like what I had found on the internet. My comment is on this article and I was told I already had spark points from it. That bothers me. I do not want to have my comments on an article I have yet to read. Pat in Maine. - 3/28/2012   9:41:34 AM
  • 71
    I went to and read what they had to say about this. Then I made up my own mind. I do not take articles at face value that affect what I am buying. I do not beleive anything sent to me on the internet that does not feel right in my mind. I always use to help me find the real deal. - 3/22/2012   8:27:23 PM
  • 70
    I grew up eating real food (we knew where it came from and it wasn't a grocery store) for the most part. My kids grew up eating real food most of the time; they never ate baby food out of a jar.

    Eat real food that you can identify. Just because it is "natural" doesn't mean it is okay to eat. Real food shouldn't need to be sterilized. I grew up drinking unpasturized milk which is now illegal in most places.

    Sh*t is natural but I wouldn't eat it just because it was sterilized. You are what you eat. I want to be healthy and natural but not sterilized pink slime!

    - 3/22/2012   3:08:46 PM
    Happen to agree with some on the list that a lot of this is hype and fear mongering. On the other had, being asked to pay premium meat prices for what is reconstituted floor sweepings, however sterilized, is plain simple fraud....and that should be objectional all around, so there really is no way to argue it as acceptable practice regardless. Also, the poster who indicated she would prefer this for her children because it is sterilized should perhaps note that the stomach contains HCL, one of the strongest acids around...honestly, your argument *for* serving poorer meat cuts to your children on that argument is a bit void, though I take your point. - 3/22/2012   8:59:47 AM
    This makes me angry! Don't fool consumers! Don't sneak garbage (pink slime) into my food! After reading the comments here, I say to all those who find this perfectly acceptable, enjoy your pink slime BUT I am on the side of those who want appropriate labeling. LABEL: "This product contains pink slime which contains ________" Yes indeed, consumers deserve to be INFORMED !!
    (No more chicken nuggets for me.) Disgusting! - 3/21/2012   3:31:32 PM
  • 67
  • 123ELAINE456
    I don't eat that much meat. I won;t touch the stuff(pink slime). Just the thought of it makes me sick. We need to start petition drive all over the country to get all the chemicales, presevatives etc. out of all food. It seems that you can't find any food products that they have't added something (chemicals etc) in the food This is why there is so much sickness and pain in our country today. And it will continue to get worse not better. I think their should by laws stopping all this adding anything to foods. But that will never happen. God help us all. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. - 3/21/2012   3:50:55 AM
    "Food can be either the strongest medicine or the slowest form of poison"
    Fortunately I am able to see exactly where my beef comes from birth to my table. The best solution for anyone who canít is certified organic. That icky stuff gets thrown away in both cases!! You could just go vegetarian but then you have the worry of pesticides and GMOs. And you who sided with the government, remember the government has approved many things that have later proved to be dangerous and then been banned. The chemical added is ammonium hydroxide also known as ammonia (nitrogen + hydrogen = NH3) nitrogen is in this compound making it and nitrate and nitrates have been linked to many diseases including, diabetes and cancer.
    Chemicals are NOT food. Sure ingesting small amounts of chemicals probably wonít hurt you, but there are so many chemicals added to our food today that many of us are eating more chemicals than real food. If that doesnít at least make you stop and think then think about this here in the USA we spent less on food and more on health care than in any other country on the world. I personally would rather put a little more money into good food and be healthy. And I hope you would all agree that at the very least we have a right to know what is in our food. How many other things are be added to our foods that are not on the label?

    - 3/20/2012   10:50:00 PM
  • 64
    One more reason to be a happy vegetarian!
    - 3/20/2012   6:59:59 PM
  • TERI081010
    It's all for the love of money! The one's doing this could care less about the public's health! I've known about this for a long time now and I buy my beef at local health food stores or I go with out, and I definitely don't eat at McDonald's or Burger King! - 3/20/2012   5:07:24 PM
  • LQUEST4754
    In my opinion this is not what the public EXPECTS to be purchasing when they buy ground beef. That is what is objectionable. I dislike being sold what would have been dog food or garbage and paying top dollar for it. I seldom buy ground beef, hotdogs, etc. any more because I can buy whole cuts of meat for the same price or less. - 3/20/2012   3:31:40 PM
  • 61
    I think it's just another way for the public to be ripped off. When I buy ground beef, I do not expect it to be processed in any way but ground. No additives, no by products, just plain old fashioned beef. This is not the only way we are ripped off. Don't forget the added water/broth etc they can also add and not show on the labels. I think the price we pay for meat should be just that, meat, not additives. Chickens, hams, pork beef they add junk to all of it. - 3/20/2012   1:17:07 PM
  • 60
    I think I don't so much have an issue with the actual product ... but I'm a really fussy eater, and I just can't bear the look of this stuff. Really. How disgusting.

    Luckily, I'm no proponent of mass-produced, "fast", or "convenience" foods ... so I think my contact with this nastified-looking stuff is likely to be minimal. And will absolutely be minimal, if I have any choice in it!

    It's good to hear from a previous poster that Publix doesn't employ its use. That's my primary grocery, other than the local/independents. - 3/20/2012   1:03:33 PM
  • KAYLEIGH0399
    I also would NOT give this to my dogs. I have studied canine nutrition for the pas 13 years and my dogs have always been fed whole fresh raw foods, never dog food and certainly never stuff with pink slime. - 3/20/2012   12:25:40 PM
  • 58
    There is a little over-reaction going on with this. Take a deep breath and don't panic! I also agree labels would be helpful for informed choices. - 3/20/2012   12:15:54 PM
    I find this amazing. You try to be responsible and frugal, using a process that almost certainly makes this material SAFER to eat than the "regular" meat and everyone wrings their hands and refuses to eat it. In a perfect world, we'd all be able to afford to eat T-bones processed in a surgically clean facility. This process allows us to extract nutritionally priceless components (protein) that would otherwise be thrown out or given to animals. It is done using standardized, safe, accepted practices that are used every day in biochem labs (centrifugation, etc). After reading some about the process, it is my personal opinion that I would almost rather I and my kids eat this material than regular meat. I think it is FAR less likely to contain pathogens. Ammonium hydroxide is bad? Give me a break! Everyone is scared by the name. Oh my! It's got a "chemical" in it! We all know how bad "chemicals" are! It's pink! It's viscous (slime)! We're all gonna die! I've spent the last 2 1/2 years studying chemistry, so I'm probably a bit jaded by all the popular media's "chemical" talk. - 3/20/2012   11:26:22 AM
  • SHEDON13
    never liked taco bell there meat tasted wrong go figure, I call it pretend Mexican, if you want your Mexican fast call ahead and pre- ordered from a real one and don't ever order the ground beef, they cook all meat twice except the asadas and they will not serve meat cooked any way but well done. trust me on this. My last name is Gomez. - 3/20/2012   11:08:43 AM
  • 55
    January 3, 2012, I became committed to eating a plant-based diet. I find many additives in processed foods disgusting, and do not think they are healthy. Period. - 3/20/2012   10:56:50 AM
  • 54
    "Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia (nitrogen + hydrogen = NH3) combined with water. Both compounds are found naturally in the environment (air, water, and soil) as well as in plants, animals, and humans. "

    Well Arsenic is also a naturally occuring substance found in the environment as is lead and mercury but I do not think I want to consume those. - 3/20/2012   10:38:00 AM
    I was listening to a short radio show about pink slime. They mentioned that Costco was one of an extremely short list of grocery stores that do NOT have pink slime in their meat. Another they mentioned was Publix, which is not in my area. My husband and I rarely eat ground beef, we prefer bison, but now I'm wondering if bison has its own "pink slime". Whereas I understand better that this isn't going to harm me, I would prefer to forego the filler! - 3/20/2012   10:37:52 AM
  • 52
    No body from this planet can say that a pink paste is ground meat. In his video he actually shows trimmings that look like ground meat but that's not how they do it. They make a goo and they mix the goo with good meat. It blows my mind that no body has to label the any product as including this goo in it. - 3/20/2012   10:13:53 AM
  • 51
    So I did some research and found out that that Ammonium Hydroxide is naturaly produced by plants, animals - including humans. Do the reaseach and become informed before you let panic-driven media to freek you out. I viewed several sites for nutrition, the best one I found was Eat well, Friends! - 3/20/2012   10:11:00 AM
  • 50
    I remember the mystery meat lunch specials at school !!! LOL !!! They said it was chicken stew. It looked and tasted more like chicken flavored tofu to me.

    Anyway, I've been reading about this pink slime that's supposed to pass for meat in school lunches. Are state budgets so bad that they have to resort to processed left overs for our children ? If so, that's pretty ridiculous !

    I'm sure many will say that parents could pack their children's lunches. This would be fine. I grew up on tuna fish or peanut butter sandwiches. Here's the problem, there are many families who can't afford to fix their children's lunch. In many cases, school breakfast program or lunch may be the only healthy meal that child gets during the day.

    If we want our children to grow up strong and healthy, we shouldn't be feeding them pink slime. What we eat really can effect how we think. the better the food, the better the thought processes. There has to be a way to find money to get our kids better food.

    - 3/20/2012   10:06:43 AM
    I think our labels should include the ingredients involved in the processing. This goes for pink slime, rancid olive oil, and all the other "processes" our government doesn't think we need to know. I say let us know the. We can make informed choices: cheep or quality. - 3/20/2012   9:52:10 AM
  • 48
    We've been eating it for years- just hadn't heard the pink slime slang term used in the industry.
    RELAX! - 3/20/2012   9:41:46 AM
  • 47
    I've been following this pretty closely, and to be honest it seems like fear mongering. Ground beef is yucky regardless, I'm more concerned with EColi and "meat glue" than with lean meat trimmings that have been sanitized.
    If you all stop to think about what's in any of the food we eat it's pretty gross.
    There's an acceptable level of rat droppings in whole wheat flour and cockroach parts in your canned goods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are recalled all the time for salmonella and listeria contamination. Shoot, I'd rather eat food that has been cleaned thank you. Besides it would appear that I've been eating it all my life and been fine for it. And I have yet to hear of anyone who's gotten sick from it. So all in all, while the process isn't the most appetizing, it's probably fine. - 3/20/2012   8:37:17 AM
  • 46
    Know your farmer, know your food.... - 3/20/2012   8:35:29 AM
  • 45
    Can you say fear mongering? Don't fall for this crap, people. If you don't worry about pink slime there will be something else to take it's place. Stop worrying and start living life! - 3/20/2012   8:25:59 AM
  • 44
    I feel deceived that they do this. I thought I was getting pure ground beef, and now to find out they have additives? What else have they added to our food that we do not know about?

    Even worse for me is I manage a grocery store and thought we were above the rest, we get our ground beef in tubes that are preground from the beef company, and I thought we were free of the mess, but come to find out we are no better, and our corporate office said we do not use it only to recant their story. We have been deceived and worse yet I have done the same to my customers. It makes me sick to my stomach. I now tell my customers, pick a steak and we will grind it for you.

    Be honest up not front, it is so much better. - 3/20/2012   8:16:18 AM
  • 43
    Having a child with food additive reactions has made me more aware of what is going in my food and what I would really rather not have in there, especially if it isn't on the label. We keep hearing that we need to eat more naturally with less additives and less processing, so why would I think this is safe? Fortunately, I make my child's lunch daily so I know what is there.

    While farmers have been "genetically engineering" plants and animals for years through crossbreeding, taking it to the scientific level of trying to create the absolute best plant by manipulating it in the lab is something completely different. I'd like to get back to basics with all food.

    On the other hand, I do agree that ammonia is a natural substance - everyone I know excretes it every day. However, there are poison labels on the bottle of ammonia you buy at the store. That is not the case with lemon or vinegar. - 3/20/2012   8:07:34 AM
  • 42
    sensationalism? really?
    i can eat whole cuts of meat handled cleanly by my local butcher (whose shop is open for view), or feel 'safe' eating bits of gunk accumulated on the floor and so saturated with filth that it needs to be sanitized with ammonia? a substance that is indeed 'natural' but that i use to clean the germs from my toilet bowl?
    if that's sensationalism, give me more of it.
    do NOT trust the USDA to keep you safe. they're bought and paid for.
    suz - 3/20/2012   8:06:38 AM
  • 41
    SAFE? Maybe so, BUT, when I buy ground beef, I don't want it to include floor sweepings, pieces of hide, growths, all the 'stuff' that they can't sell elsewhere.

    I stopped trusting the USDA years ago! (remember Thalidomide?)

    The beef industry does this to save approximately 3 cents per pound. I guess I'll dig out my old fashioned, clamp-on, manual meat grinder, buy lean, cheap steak - and go back to grinding hamburger myself. THEN I will KNOW what's in my hamburger, Thank You! - 3/20/2012   8:04:11 AM
  • 40
    It's safe and it's clean. The name is intended to generate distaste. Realistically, it's ground meat. That it has been cleansed of Salmonella and E.Coli, should not cause consumers to turn away from it. Seriously, the mentioning of ammonia as a cleaning agent is a scare tactic: vinegar and lemon are used as cleaning agents as well and we still consume them. - 3/20/2012   7:48:59 AM
  • 39
    Sensationalism. - 3/20/2012   6:52:44 AM
    After seeing this, I can't eat ground beef again. ALL additives should be labeled and let the consumer decide. Just what does the FDA do anyway? They're certainly not consumer friendly. Are they afraid it will hurt the beef industry? - 3/20/2012   6:09:34 AM
    The worst thing about "pink slime" is its politicization by those who fearmonger to get their agenda accepted. "Pink slime" sounds terrible because of its characterization as slime. Holy Moses! Put slime after anything and it would be unappetizing. Raw eggs are slimy. Would you eat something called "slimy eggs"? How about okra? Is there anything slimier? Yet it is used to thicken many Cajun dishes. Organic food is great, but there is no way to grow enough of it to provide the nation with food. Read The Omnivore's Dilemma for more info. The only thing slimy about "pink slime" is politicians trying to make a name for themselves. - 3/20/2012   2:37:36 AM
  • 36
    PUT THE KOOLAID DOWN, PEOPLE! Stop buying into hype. There is nothing "natural" about agriculture. ALL production plants and animals are "genetically modified" organisms. I don't care if they do come from an "organic" farm. When you impose limits/restrictions on natural growth and enhance other resources, then you are modifying the crop. That's how genetics works. It's the same concept as the reason that humans are bigger and taller than they were 200 years ago - better nutrition and healthcare has modified our DNA. I have a degree in agriculture and a degree in genetics from one of the foremost agriculturally based universities in the US, so I know what I'm talking about. - 3/20/2012   2:03:55 AM
  • 35
    Dr. Mercola says in his newsletter that we have been eating it for a number of years, so guess it isn't that big of a deal. Ecoli worries me more. - 3/20/2012   1:21:05 AM
  • 34
    Be ashamed for falling for fear mongering. You drink diet sodas and there's more chemicals in that than in pink slime. And have you ever had KFC? Get a grip. - 3/20/2012   12:48:26 AM
  • 33
    Here in my homeland I always meat from the farmers market..and veggies
    all locally grown also! - 3/20/2012   12:03:00 AM
  • 32
    This just makes me angry! Another reason for organic and local ranchers to supply my food. I'm sure I have eaten this unknowingly but it is disgusting to me that once again we are not informed of all the things that are in our food. - 3/19/2012   10:52:23 PM

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