Streams

Districts Moving Against 'Pink Slime'

Monday, March 26, 2012 - 08:05 AM

"Pink slime" is on its way out.

Even as the United States Department of Agriculture says it will begin offering schools alternatives to products that contain "pink slime," an ammonia-based filler for ground beef, parents are pressing school districts around the country to stop serving the products now -- and some school districts are responding, The New York Times reported this weekend.

The Boston school district, like others, has isolated and is not serving products like meat patties and meatballs that contain the filler. Jess Bidgood writes:

Michael Peck, the director of food and nutrition services for the Boston schools, said the district had decided to hold and isolate its entire inventory of ground beef, leaving over 70,000 pounds of beef -- worth about $500,000, Mr. Peck estimated -- confined to a warehouse until the district knows more about what is in it.

“It’s another example of the alteration of our food supply,” said Mr. Peck, who is concerned about the use of ammonia hydroxide gas to kill bacteria in the product. “Have we created another unknown safety risk?”

The district will put the meat back into circulation if it finds that it is free of the filler, but like many districts, it is frustrated by the difficulty of determining what does and does not contain lean finely textured beef, which does not have to be listed as an ingredient.

“It does speak to the U.S.D.A.’s ability to trace,” Mr. Peck said. He added that the ground beef would be donated or thrown out if the district found that it contained pink slime.

Officials in the Miami-Dade school districts, as well as in South Carolina, said they would opt for only the beef free of pink slime. And in New York City, the district is already buying beef without the filler, as parents and elected officials call for its immediate removal from school cafeterias, said Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the city's Education Department.

“They saw the news media, and they were concerned that this was, kind of, throwaway portions,” Ms. Feinberg said. “We’re depleting our inventory; we’re phasing it out.”

Officially, the beef products are still approved by the Agriculture Department. And, indeed, experts say, revulsion, not actual harm, is inspiring the push against the product, said Donald W. Schaffner, director of the Center of Advanced Food Technology at Rutgers University.

“I don’t see that there is a scientific or health benefit from the point of microbiology or even toxicology,” Dr. Schaffner said of the rush to pull the beef from school menus. “The reason why it’s resonated with people is not so much that it’s unsafe, but the idea that we’re putting ammonia in our food is unpalatable to people.”

In other news, this is a big week for parents of soon-to-be kindergarten students, Inside Schools reported.

Kindergarten registration begins March 26 after families learn this week where their children got accepted. Schools sent out notification letters via email and regular mail by March 23.

While the majority of public school children attend their zoned elementary schools, other families apply to schools the way 18-year-olds apply to college. They visit many, work out the odds of admission and may even have a list of "safetys" and "reaches."

So Inside Schools is asking parents to respond to their poll: How many kindergartens did you apply to? Fill out their form here.

Speaking of forms, SchoolBook is also looking for parents' help in reporting a story and is offering a simple form for you to tell us: How much have you spent this year on your child's school or school-related activities?

More than 200 of you have responded to our "crowd-sourcing survey," to help our reporters find out how much parents are kicking in to close school financing gaps and pay for enrichment and other activities -- and according to the responses, the costs appear to be substantial.

SchoolBook's journalists will be analyzing all of the data this week, but you have another day or two to pitch in with your responses. You can find our survey here.

On this again-chilly Monday morning:

At 10 a.m., the City Council’s Education Committee will hold a hearing to examine the mayor's preliminary capital budget for the Department of Education and School Construction Authority, at 250 Broadway, Committee Room, 16th floor.

A group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth grade-students from Intermediate School 72 Rocco Laurie on Staten Island will present a check for $600 that they raised to help their local library branch in West New Brighton. The Staten Island borough president will be on hand for the event. Congratulations, and thank you, I.S. 72 students.

Also on Staten Island, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott visits Curtis High School at 11 a.m.

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