Pink Slime or Lean Beef?

HOUSTON - Tonight at 10, we showed you the beef industry's response to the pink slime scandal that's been all over the news and internet the last several months. We did our best to fit in answers to all of the questions you sent us through Facebook, but inevitably, something gets left out. I am leaving all that information that got left on the cutting room floor here.

Andrew Chavez asked "I've been wondering Is this the same Pink slime Used for McDonalds Chicken Nuggets?"

Answer: No, but there is a similar processing technique used to make chicken nuggets. We were told by federal regulators that this picture (right) circulating that everyone claims is the "pink slime" used in lean beef trimmings is more likely "mechanically separated chicken."  Nice.

Desiree' Dedeaux-Brown asked "How do you know if the ground beef you're buying has this stuff in it?"

Answer: HEB, Fiesta, Whole Foods and Costco all say their ground beef has never contained the trimmings. Since the recent reports, Kroger, Randall's and Target have pulled the beef with trimmings from their shelves. A WalMart spokesperson sent me a statement saying that WalMart and Sam's do carry it, but they will begin carrying beef without it as quickly as possible. Here is WalMart's statement that was emailed to me: 

"As a result of customer and member feedback, Walmart and Sam's Club will begin offering fresh ground beef that does not contain lean finely textured beef (LFTB). We are working aggressively with our suppliers to have new offerings in our stores and clubs as quickly as possible. As these products become available, associates in our meat department and at our customer service desks will share updates with customers who inquire.While the USDA and experts agree that beef containing LFTB is safe and nutritious, we are committed to listening to our customers and providing the quality products they want at prices they can afford."

If you purchase meat with the "USDA Organic" logo on it, it will not contain the lean beef trimmings because the ammonia hydroxide that they treat the meat with is  not certified organic.

Melissa Crabtree asked: "How do you know if your school district buys food for school breakfasts and lunches that contain this stuff?"

Answer: You have to ask your school district.. and they will even have to do some homework to figure it out. HISD checked with the 3 vendors it purchases beef from to find out if any of them got their beef from the company that produces the product in question. Not all districts we contacted did their research to give us what I would consider a satisfactory answer. Here are the responses from the school districts we contacted: 

Houston ISD

All HISD ground beef suppliers have confirmed this week that they do not use lean finely textured beef.

Houston Independent School District officials contacted the suppliers soon after concerns were raised about lean finely textured beef, also known as pink slime. As of Wednesday afternoon, each vendor had supplied HISD with written documentation confirming they have not sent the district any of the controversial products. In addition, HISD officials have inspected about $800,000 worth of frozen ground beef stored at the district's food services facility and confirmed it does not contain lean finely textured beef.

In the future, HISD will decline to purchase any products that contain lean finely textured beef.

Fort Bend ISD

 Fort Bend ISD would not want any of our beef products to contain this filler.  However, if USDA had the filler added to the ground beef in their procurement practices and this product was distributed to school districts nationwide; then there is the possibility we have it in some of our entrees. We will do our best to ensure products purchased do not contain this filler and product specifications will be evaluated and modified as appropriate.

The Fort Bend ISD Child Nutrition Department will use all possible checks and balances to ensure this filler is not contained in any products purchased by the Department.  Our goal is for parents to be confident the best quality food products are purchased and prepared for all meals served in the school cafeterias.

Gail McIntire-Stotler

Child Nutrition Director

Fort Bend Independent School District

Aldine Independent School District

Aldine ISD's Child Nutrition Services purchases ground beef products from 3 vendors.  1.  Advance Pierre Group – does not sell Lean Finely Textured Beef processed with Ammonia Hydroxide2.  JTM Food Group – does not sell Lean Finely Textured Beef processed with Ammonia Hydroxide3.  Sysco Houston – does sell Lean Finely Textured Beef processed with Ammonia Hydroxide and Aldine is currently purchasing a very small amount (5% of total beef purchased).Even though the use of ammonia hydroxide  to manufacture Lean Finely Textured Beef is approved by USDA and has been proven to be wholesome and safe, Aldine Child Nutrition Services is immediately changing beef purchased from Sysco Houston to a product without ammonia hydroxide.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD

The district contracts with vendors other than USDA, but we haven't received information about their inclusion of the finely textured beef. However, next year, due to our bid specifications, no vendors will be used that uses the lean, finely textured beef.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD participates in the National School Lunch Program and receives about $2.2 million in donated food commodities from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) One of these commodities is bulk ground beef. Although the USDA stands behind the safety of the ground beef that they provide for lunch programs, the use of finely textured beef in shipments of bulk beef will be discontinued next year. Given the choice, CFISD will be opting out of the shipments of finely textured beef. In CFISD, students have options other than ground beef; they can choose a hot entree, a hot sandwich item, a hummus lunch box, a yogurt and string cheese lunch box or a variety of entree salads.


Katy ISD

The district didn't send me a written statement, but the district representative Steven Stanford told me that Katy's private beef vendors didn't give them beef with the trimmings in the past, and moving forward, the district will opt to buy ground beef without the lean finely textured beef trimmings.

Conroe ISD

Conroe ISD is a member of the Gulf Coast Co-Op which includes districts from Galveston, Montgomery, Walker, Grimes, Brazoria and Harris Counties. Manufacturers apply to the USDA to be approved to process products for school districts. For almost two decades, Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) has been an acceptable component of the ground beef purchased by USDA for distribution through the National School Lunch Program as well as for commercial purposes.

Upon contacting our beef manufacturers, they sent us a statement that USDA commodity meat is purchased by the USDA under their approved specifications.

The CISD Child Nutrition Director has received unofficial information that next year, districts will have the option to receive commodity beef where LFTB has not been added. If given the option, CISD will not be using any beef that has undergone this added component.

Questions regarding USDA Foods beef should be directed to the USDA Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) office.

We emailed and called Alief ISD, but they never responded to our questions.

Joel Salazar asked: "Why would I want this (the pink slim) added to my hamburger meat. Is there a nutritional value?"

Answer: According to the American Meat Institute, the nutritional value of lean beef trimmings is about the same as regular ground beef. They claim there is no connective tissue, tendons or anything other than muscled meat treated with ammonia hydroxide (a puff of gas) to kill pathogens.

Russell Shawn Harris asked: "If you took a patty made up of 100% pink slime, what would the patty reduce down to? Would there be nothing left and only liquid fat in the pan or just a smaller patty?"

Answer: Good question, Russell. It's hard to say because the product is never sold or eaten as 100% lean beef trimmings (aka: pink slime). The USDA says when it is mixed with regular ground beef, there is never more than 15% of the beef trimmings. The AMI spokesperson said that the beef trimmings are softer than regular ground beef because it was a bunch of small pieces of meat that were packed together and then ground up.

Stacey Morton Sims asked "How does "lean" and "trimmings" fit in the same description?"

Answer: According to AMI, the meat is removed from pieces of fat by a patented technique where workers heat the trimmings (not enough to cook it) just enough that the fat melts away from the little pieces of beef that would otherwise be too difficult to cut off individually with a knife. When that beef is separated from the fat, AMI and the USDA say it is very lean. There is almost no fat on it at all. 

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