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Pink Slime: What's in Your Food?

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pink-slime-used-in-beef Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Thinkstock

Any food documentary lover or NPR listener has heard of “pink slime,” especially with all of the recent controversy.

For those of us who haven’t heard of it, what is pink slime? A child’s toy? Cartoon villain? Guess again.

Pink slime is a villain of another kind: a chemically treated meat substance that is in an estimated 70 percent of all beef sources.

Pink slime contains the extra trimmings (often called waste trimmings) that aren’t used for regular meat cuts. These are fatty pieces of random meat that are heated up in order to extract the lean meat. Technology is fantastic, isn’t it? Lean meat doesn’t sound all the bad, right?

Unfortunately, after the substance is heated up and turned into “lean meat,” it becomes a breeding ground for harmful bacteria that cause diseases like E. coli or salmonella.

So technology steps in once again and treats this substance with a gas made of ammonium hydroxide -- this is gaseous ammonia. This treatment will kill any harmful bacteria and make is safe to be fed to humans without their consent.

Yup, the FDA does not require products containing pink slime to be labeled as such -- against objections from pink slime scientists, who have refused to eat the chemically processed, cheap meat filler themselves.

This means that pink slime is at many fast food establishments, grocery stores, and even in your child’s school lunches, fought over during the recent controversy. A product that used to be found in your dog food, could now be nourishing you and your family.

Although we cannot always depend on the FDA or government regulations to have our best interests in mind, we’re lucky that food advocacy has become a popular past time these days.

In fact, thanks to food advocate and TV star Jamie Oliver, McDonald’s and other large fast food establishments have decided to discontinue the use of pink slime in their meats.

Although the discontinued use of pink slime sounds like a win, critics aren’t sure what this will do for food safety.

As Jamie Oliver suggests, the best way to be sure that your food is safe is to know where it comes from. One hundred years ago this wasn’t an issue.

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