Q&A | The Truth About Pink Slime

Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison gives us a break down on the beef byproduct known as pink slime.

Last week, New York City education officials pledged to make sure so-called pink slime is out of school lunches by September. Today, the company that makes pink slime has suspended operations at three of four plants where the ingredient is made, saying they'll work to address recent public concern about the product.

What is exactly is pink slime?
Pink slime is sort of a term that was coined by a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist who really hated this stuff. The official name is fine, leanly textured beef, and it’s kind of scraps. … it’s just these tiny little bits and pieces of scrap meat that don’t fit in the official cuts. And it’s spun off, the fats removed, and you have this kind of … fine ooze of tiny, tiny bits of meat. That is then put through a tube and puffed with ammonia. There’s like a puff of ammonia gas. And the ammonia is there … and that kills bacteria. …    . …”

How widespread is its use? Is it just in beef?
The astonishing thing when you look at it: it’s in cereal, it’s in chocolate, it’s in bread. It’s a widely used technique to kill bacteria because in the end I think our food companies have decided that a little ammonia is not as bad as a lot of food poisoning.

Is pink slime unhealthy?
Part of it is that the company, Beef Products, Inc., that just halted production in a number of factories, made a real strong pitch to the USDA to not mention this was in beef. … When people started realizing that the government and the company had kind of been complicit in hiding this, then I think you got this huge reaction tied to the fact you were talking about ooze. … Health wise, you know, it’s not that bad.

Are there unintended consequences of removing pink slime?
There’s some research that shows that [pink slime] … is slightly less nutritious than regular beef because there’s more insoluble fiber in it. I am not an expert on what beef and soluble fiber is – I take that to be finely textured gristle. … So there’s some chance you’re not getting quite as much meat nutrition. … The regular ground beef is going to be higher in fat because … you were getting a lower fat product.