Misconceptions about lean, finely textured beef get debunked

Would you eat pink slime?

Yes, I would! The media has brought much negative and untruthful attention to “Lean, Finely Textured Beef,” or what they have referred to as “pink slime.” One county commission, Miami-Dade, has even adopted a resolution against the use of the product in county government-prepared meals and has encouraged other Florida counties to do the same. Unfortunately, being so far removed from where their food comes from, they failed to consider the facts about the product.

You likely have heard that “your hamburger could come from hundreds of different animals.” This is absolutely true. The likelihood that a given ground beef patty comes from one animal alone is very small. The only way this would be the case is:

1. If you asked your retail butcher to grind an existing roast or steak from the retail case,

2. If you buy custom ground beef from your local butcher, or

3. If you slaughter and fabricate it yourself.

According to Dr. Chad Carr, UF/IFAS Meat Science Specialist and Professor, there are two very similar finely textured beef products that are available commercially, Beef Products Inc.’s (BPI) product, “Lean, Finely Textured Beef ” (LFTB), which accounts for the majority of this market, and Cargill’s product, “Finely Textured Beef” (FTB). These or similar products have been available commercially within the U.S. for more than 30 years.

Commercially manufactured ground beef is generally made by combining a very lean source of beef (≤ 10 percent fat), with a relatively high fat source of beef (≥ 30 percent fat) to produce a final product with ≤ 20 percent fat. These different sources would almost certainly come from different carcasses.

In a commercial facility, beef subprimals, such as strip loins, top sirloin butts, briskets, etc., have a specification for how much external fat can be present before they are transported to end-users. Some external fat is removed at the packinghouse from all these pieces. When the external fat is cut off, small pieces of lean are included as well. Those small pieces of lean are what ultimately become LFTB or FTB. The fat pieces containing a small amount of lean are called “trim” or “trimmings,” and are collected in large plastic-lined cardboard boxes or “combos.”

The beef trimmings used to make LFTB or FTB must meet the same or greater microbiological requirements enforced by the USDA-Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) as a beef roast sold at your grocery store or a steak sold at your favorite steakhouse. These combos of fat trimmings contain no bones, no tendons, no spinal cord, and no organ meats. Each of these combos of trimmings must be sampled and tested for E.Coli O157:H7 and six other Shiga-toxin– causing E.Coli, according to USDA-FSIS regulations. Products that test positive for E.Coli O157:H7 or the six other Shiga-toxin– causing E.Coli are “adulterated” and cannot be sold for consumption as fresh ground beef.

The inspected and microbially tested fat trimmings are then processed to make LFTB or FTB. The process is accomplished by heating the product to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit, then separating the lean from fat with centrifugal force similar to separating cream from milk. The liquefied fat is then food-grade beef tallow. The remaining lean product is then exposed to an additional antimicrobial intervention. Within the BPI facility, the remaining lean is briefly exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas or, or within the Cargill facility, citric acid, both of which are on the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list of the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The lean product known as LFTB or FTB is then flash frozen and ultimately shipped to ground beef manufacturers, which include the product in formulations up to 20 percent of the final blend.

Many consumers have perceived the use of ammonium hydroxide gas as the most unsettling component of this process. Ammonia can be produced in very low levels naturally within the muscles of mammals after aggressive muscular exertion. Also, ammonium hydroxide is included in the commercial processing of multiple food products, including puddings and baked goods.

So, put the tofu burger back on the shelf (as a side note, tofu and many other food products are manufactured in much the same way as LFTB and FTB!) and enjoy that juicy, wholesome, safe, and nutritious burger! I and my family certainly will.

For more information about LFTB or FTB, please contact your local county Extension office or myself, Bridget Carlisle, at (863) 519-8677, ext. 104, or email me at bccarlis@ufl.edu.


article by BRIDGET CARLISLE with contributions by DR. CHAD CARR

Bridget Carlisle is a UF/IFAS Livestock Extension Agent. Dr. Chad Carr is a UF/IFAS Meat Science Specialist.

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