One of the hot topics that has been in the new lately related to meat has been “pink slime,” as it was referred to by a USDA scientist. This product is also know as lean finely textured beef. This item is being used as “filler” in ground beef products to help reduce cost. We have been getting phone calls about this item. I am happy to say that we do not have lean finely textured beef in our ground beef. Anyone who is grinding whole muscle beef in our area would not have the ability to add this product to their ground beef. This is another great example of the importance of knowing your food source.
While this topic has seen negative press, I do believe consumers needs to make sure they understand what is going on. First, this product is produced from a hanging beef carcass. Once a beef carcass is slaughtered, the carcass is inspected and passed. At that time, all parts of that carcass are deemed edible. While most of us will look to consume the steaks, roasts, etc., there are other areas that some people may not think of to consume. Bones, tendons, fat, and muscle tissue are items that some choose to consume. While those items do not all sound good individually, combined into a chuck roast they make a wonderful tasting meal. Chuck roast or lean finely textured beef, they both contain the same parts of the beef. I would hate to see consumer outcry take away the capability of anyone to consume what they choose to eat.
Some might also have an issue with the ammonium hydroxide. This brings up a topic that I have always had some issue with. To address E.Coli concerns, the USDA has various interventions that they require to help insure a safe food supply. For some reason, these items are not labeled. In our plant we use a lactic acid rinse. Carcasses are spayed immediately after slaughter with a 3% lactic acid solution for 2 minutes per animal. Other locations may use citric acid, or other approved items. The ammonium hydroxide is one of those items. The USDA has decided not to share this fact with the consumer. Unfortunately, this is something that every inspected facility must address, and there is no way around this, except by educating our customers.
In the end, it is still very important to know what you are eating. Sourcing locally will help to insure you can tell what goes into your food products. We produce a high quality ground beef and have no desire to use lean finely textured beef. We also cannot produce a ground beef that sells for $2.50 per pound. By talking with your processor, you should be able to find out exactly what goes into the food you eat. If they cannot provide you answers, please look into it further. Finding out for yourself can make all the difference.
Tom Eickman, a third-generation meat processor, is co-owner of Eickman’s Processing Co. in Seward. He is a past president of the Illinois Association of Meat Processors, and is a founding member of the Local Foods Work Group at the University of Illinois Extension–Winnebago County. He blogs about local foods at blogs.e-rockford.com/gogreen.