If you haven’t heard of pink slime, you’re fortunate. Pink slime is gross. The meat industry calls it “lean finely textured beef,” a wonderful phrase which shows that poets and rhetoricians have an important role to play in industrial America.
Pink slime, or lean finely textured beef, is a meat filler that is routinely added to hamburger. Think of it as hamburger helper that you didn’t know was there. Most of the time when you buy a slice of meat the label tells you what part you’re getting – chuck, sirloin, tenderloin, and the like – but when you buy hamburger the label often says simply ground beef. And if you take the leftover bits of those named cuts, plus muscle, connective tissue and blood which would ordinarily be dumped, and heat all this, spin it to remove the now liquid fat, and compress the remainder you get what a federal microbiologist called “pink slime.” The name stuck, because that’s what it looks like.
Getting rid of the fat in those throwaway leftovers means that you can add this stuff to fattier ground beef and thereby reduce the percentage of fat in the total. That way you can end up with hamburger that’s, say, 80 percent lean, just like the ground beef that’s made from a cut of meat that’s naturally 80 percent lean. And since pink slime is made from beef it’s not considered an additive so there’s no regulation compelling the meat industry to label the mixed ground beef as having this stuff in it. Oh, it’s true that these leftover bits are more likely to contain pathogens, so the meat is gassed with ammonium hydroxide to kill them, a treatment considered safe and approved by the FDA.
Well, enough of this juvenile grossness! It’s estimated that 70 percent of the ground beef for sale in your local grocery store has got pink slime in it. You’ve already eaten a barrel of the stuff and you’re OK. Stop whining. Or regurgitating. If you want more on this subject, there’s a balanced piece that was on NPR a while ago. Bon appétite!