From the Lunch Lady Chronicles: Hey, Kids, It’s Time for Pink Slime!

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

Have you heard about “pink slime” lately? Do you know what it is? You should. According to a number of news reports, pink slime is a “filler” that can be found in approximately 70% of hamburger meat that is sold in supermarkets.

Pink slime is produced by grinding together low-grade trimmings like connective tissue, cow intestines, and beef scraps that would normally be destined for dog food and rendering. (Such trimmings are said to come from the parts of the cow that are highly exposed to fecal matter.) The ground concoction is then simmered in low heat in a centrifuge in order to separate fat and tissue and treated with ammonia-hydroxide to kill pathogens, including salmonella and E. Coli. “The resulting pinkish substance is later blended into traditional ground beef and hamburger patties.” The United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe to eat.

Kit Foshee, who was once a corporate quality manager at BPI–a company that manufactures pink slime–said of the substance, “It kind of looks like Play-Doh. It’s pink and frozen. It’s not what the typical person would consider meat.” Foshee claims that he was fired by BPI after he had complained “about the process used to make the filler, and the company’s claims about it.”

Because the FDA considers ammonia to be a processing agent, it’s not required to be listed as an ingredient on food labels.

Pink Slime – What is REALLY in your Hamburger –

‘Pink Slime’ Outrage: Beef Industry Responds

Pink Slime in School Lunches

The Daily reported that 7,000,000 pounds of this “beef” product “have been scheduled as part of school lunch programs” in this country. In fact, nearly 7% of the ground beef used in school lunches will have been treated with ammonium-hydroxide.

Two microbiologists who formerly worked for the Food Safety Inspection Service think the continued purchase of pink slime for school lunches “makes no sense.” Gerald Zirnstein, one of the microbiologists, told The Daily that he wouldn’t want his son, who is now two-years-old, eating it when he starts going to school. Zirnstein coined the term “pink slime” after he toured a BPI facility in 2002 when he was conducting “an investigation into salmonella contamination in packaged ground beef.”

Retired microbiologist Carl Custer said that the treated beef trimmings were originally called  “soylent pink.” He added, “We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Note: US schools, agricultural and health authorities don’t call beef trimmings treated with ammonium-hydroxide “pink slime.” They call it “lean fine textured beef.”

Dr. John Torres said that “ammonia does not cause a major health risk to our bodies.” He said he was “more concerned about the possible E. coli and salmonella that could still exist in the beef by-products, even after the chemical treatment.” Torres added that these chemically-treated by-products don’t contain the same amount of nutrients as pure-ground beef. He continued, “It’s one of those things, “Do I want my child to have this? On a short-term, moderate basis: maybe. On a long-term basis: no.”

Note: In January, three fast-food chains—McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King–decided to stop using “pink slime” in their products after pressure from Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef.

‘Pink Slime’ eliminated from fast food, going to school lunches

Where Your Beef Burger Comes From


Partners in ‘slime’: Feds keep buying ammonia-treated ground beef for school lunches (The Daily)

Seven Million Pounds of “Pink Slime” Beef Destined for National School Lunch Program (Yahoo)

The “Pink Slime” in Your Kid’s School Lunch (Mother Jones)

Supermarket Slime, James Cameron Dives Deep, Spring Springs Forward (On Earth)

Pink Slime Found In 70% Of Supermarket Ground Beef In ABC Investigation (Huffington Post)

Pink Slime Criticism Is Overblown, Say Some Food Safety Advocates (Huffington Post)

Where You Can Get ‘Pink-Slime’-Free Beef (ABC News)

70 Percent of Ground Beef at Supermarkets Contains ‘Pink Slime’ (ABC News)

Pink Slime – Good Enough For School Meals, Not McDonald’s (Medical News Today)

‘Pink slime’ beef additive is used in CISD school lunches (Your Houston News)

‘Pink slime’ eliminated from fast food, but not school lunches (USA Today)

35 thoughts on “From the Lunch Lady Chronicles: Hey, Kids, It’s Time for Pink Slime!”

  1. Elaine,
    While we’re trading war stories. Over 30 percent of the mental sanatoria cases in the south in the mid-20s were do to eating a diet mainly of hominy grits. These grits were so poor in vitamin B family that with a diet of white bread of unenriched wheat flour this resulted in mental dysfunction.
    They were not alone, the Po valley in Italy was similarly afflicted.
    PS Aren’t the cows fed soy beans also? For the protein content?

  2. idealist,

    You might want to read about the process that cattle have to go through as ruminants in order for their digestive systems to adapt to eating corn. I first learned about it in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

    Here’s an interview with Michael Pollan, the book’s author, on the subject:

    So most people think of a cow as something that’s out grazing, and then is taken to the slaughterhouse.

    … No, not true. Cows see very little grass nowadays in their lives. They get them on corn as fast as they can, which speeds up their lifespan, gets them really fat, and allows you to slaughter them within 14 months.

    The problem with this system, or one of the problems with this system, is that cows are not evolved to digest corn. It creates all sorts of problems for them. The rumen is designed for grass. And corn is just too rich, too starchy. So as soon as you introduce corn, the animal is liable to get sick.

    It creates a whole [host] of changes to the animal. So you have to essentially teach them how to eat corn. You teach their bodies to adjust. And this is done in something called the backgrounding pen at the ranch, which is kind of the prep school for the feedlot. Here’s where you teach them how to eat corn.

    You start giving them antibiotics, because as soon as you give them corn, you’ve disturbed their digestion, and they’re apt to get sick, so you then have to give them drugs. That’s how you get in this whole cycle of drugs and meat. By feeding them what they’re not equipped to eat well, we then go down this path of technological fixes, and the first is the antibiotics. Once they start eating the [corn], they’re more vulnerable. They’re stressed, so they’re more vulnerable to all the different diseases cows get. But specifically they get bloat, which is just a horrible thing to happen. They stop ruminating.

    You have the image of a cow on grass of the cow ruminating, which is chewing its cud and burping a lot. In fact, a lot of greenhouse gases come out of the stock as methane emerges from their mouth as they eructate — it’s a technical term. And they bring down saliva in this process, and it keeps their stomach very base rather than acid.

    So you put in the corn, and this layer of slime forms over the rumen. You’ve got to picture the rumen. It’s a 45-gallon fermentation tank. It’s essentially fermenting the grass. Suddenly your slime forms and the gas can’t escape, and the rumen just expands like a balloon. It’s pressing against the lungs and the heart, and if nothing is done, the animal suffocates.

    So what is done is, if you catch it in time, you stick a hose down the esophagus and you release the gas and maybe give the animal some hay or grass, and it’s a lot healthier. But it’s one of the things that happens to cows on corn. …

    Not all cows get bloat. They’re prone to bloat. It’s a serious problem on feedlots. They also get acidosis, which is an acidifying of the rumen. … And when the animals get acid stomach, it’s a really bad case of heartburn, and they go off their feed. Eventually, if you give them too much corn too quickly, it ulcerates the rumen; bacteria escape from the rumen into the blood stream, and end up in the liver, creating liver abscesses.

    What do we do about that? Another antibiotic. … Most cows on feedlots eating this rich diet of corn are prone to having their livers damaged. So to prevent that, or limit the incidence of liver disease, we have to give them another antibiotic.

  3. Did anybody mention sausage, prepared mean dishes, etc.
    I remember the mini-shrimp in the Venice fish market. They were so fresh they were still jumping around. And they do eat microfauna, not farmed yet.

  4. PS I don’t know about local coops etc. for ex Elaines.
    But my facts are taken from info that is collected by the FDA from routine FDA (for ex breeders) data, and the letter written to the DoAg sec’y to not take away guard zones from RR alfalfa crops until the matter was more fully investigated. There is a group within the FDA responsible for studying this type of problem with microfauna, etc. and RR gene modification. The chairman has over 25 years experience studying glycofosat, the main ingredient in RR treatment.
    Links are available if desired.

    It caused a brief stir when one of his collegues leaked the letter to the press, and the EU parliament called him to testify.
    And then it gets buried. Like how pink slime to feed our kids will be also.
    Feel hopeful anybody. Lead the charge Mike S and Elaine.

  5. Sorry to disappoint you grass fed beef eaters—–not to contradict Elaine M.
    My info is general. As long as RoundupReady alfalfa is the primary source of “grass” then the beef is questionable for several reasons that won’t go into now. This applies at least to Argentine beef, and possibly Brasilian too.
    Let’s just say for the moment that the alfalfa causes almost 100% miscarriages in heifers birthing for the first time, RR chelates the minerals making them unavailable to the plants, and disturbs the microfauna pop so the growth of toxin producing microfauna is encouraged.

    As for beef slime, my store in the country does their own grinding from plastic bags full on meat bit trimmings. No slime in sight.
    Will check my town store. They are responsive to customer concerns.

    Thanks Elaine. Shall we baptize you as the Jamie Oliver of the week.
    Glad am treating myself to my weekly filet (don’t know what you call it) comme filet mignon, n’est ce pas.

  6. Elaine,
    Quite disturbing in that I buy my “94% lean” chopped meat from my local wholesale club. Perhaps this is why the beef is so “lean”. Worth more research on my part.

  7. If we want adults to be healthy and eat real food – then we have to feed them real food as children. No pink slime, no pizza as a vegetable etc. The schools need to feed real food and veggies and the USDA needs to spend more time inspecting food processing plants, ranches and farms and less time providing business loans to puppy mills and related businesses.

  8. But… But…. Frankly…. It taste just like chicken….. Just like the grill marks painted on the hamburger…. They must be good for you…..

  9. Thank you Elaine…. I agree grass free range is the best…. You all also have some of the best domestic merlots in the country as well….. All organic…. Had thought about doing a mailing with them a few years back…

  10. Years ago I read an industry article about a professor who was being given a big award from the chicken industry. He has perfected a process that bleached dark meat so that it would be ‘white meat chicken’. This required a great deal of rinsing obviously & what was left was a white, tasteless sludge. The prof was asked about the lack of flavor & replied thats just a side benefit that the fast food people wanted, the flavorless palate allowed them to flavor it any way they wanted.

    If you are eating fast food or highly processed crap you are eating sludge like this & worse.

  11. AY,

    Grass-fed beef is the best–if you can get it.

    My husband and I were on a waiting list to join the Community Supported Agriculture at Appleton Farms in Massachusetts for a number of years. This year we finally got to buy shares.

    Appleton farms is a beautiful place.

    “Appleton Farms in Hamilton and Ipswich is one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the United States. Established in 1638 by a land grant to Samuel Appleton, it is the oldest working farm in Massachusetts, and at 1,000 acres, one of the largest. Perhaps more importantly, the farm preserves a bucolic, pastoral landscape, agricultural traditions, and historic farm buildings that are rapidly disappearing in the eastern part of the state.”

  12. That’s why I prefer steak to another meat product….. If raised right…. I am a vegetarian by proxy…..


    I heard the full story on apm and was as grossed out then as I am now……I think OS has it right…..

  13. Um.. gee… thanks, Elaine. 😉

    In the “ignorance is bliss” vein, I’ve tried to ignore these “pink slime” stories, but I’ve stopped eating ground meat in restaurants. Thankfully, there are some organic farmers in the area with “grind as you watch” operations.)

    Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

  14. Otteray,

    Have you read about the ingredients in chicken nuggets in Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma?”

  15. Otteray,

    I don’t know which sounds more unappetizing–Haggis or pink slime. Could it be that Haggis was a precursor of pink slime?



    I only buy ground beef and pork from a small local market that grinds the meat on its premises.

  16. raff, don’t count anything out. Have you seen the pink slime stuff the fast food places use to make chicken “nuggets”? You do not want to know what part(s) of the chicken nuggets come from.

  17. Holy cow! Pun intended. Great article Elaine. I saw this news item but I didn’t have a clue how scary it was. I may have to reconsider my summer burgers! I do use Turkey burgers most of the time. I wonder if they use a pink slime in Turkey burgers also?

  18. And to think the people who push this stuff on us would turn up their collective noses at Haggis made the traditional Scottish way.


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