The phrase “pink slime” has been prominent in the news lately as many people are learning that it has been an important ingredient used to make the hamburger patties sold by many American fast food chains. The name certainly doesn’t sound very good, and it is enough to make any normal person ask what pink slime is, and why in the world has it been used in making hamburgers?
Pink slime is actually a meat quality enhancing product known scientifically as ammonium hydroxide which turns fatty beef residue into a reddish paste. If that sounds like an especially unappealing thing to mix into hamburgers, it is. Pink slime is composed of the fatty meat residues from cows mixed with ammonia. When mixed with water, pink slime becomes ammonium hydroxide, a poison that can release ammonia gas into the air and ammonia into the body. Pink slime has been employed as an ingredient in commercial hamburger patties because ammonium hydroxide is effective for killing e-coli Salmonella, a common problem that comes from the process of using meat scraps to create hamburger meat patties.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) microbiologist named Gerald Zirnstein first called processed beef products pink slime in 2002 when he told his colleagues at the USDA that “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.” Later in 2008 when it was discovered that over 5 million pounds of ammonia treated beef had been used in the U.S. School Lunch Program, the public outcry became too loud to ignore. The result was that concerned public health advocates succeeded in having the ammoniated pink slime removed from all meat served by McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell in the United States.
Although most of the major fast food chains in the U.S. voluntarily removed ammonium hydroxide from their products during 2011, because the use of the chemical is considered a production procedure and not a meat ingredient, the chemical is still not required to be listed on the labels of meat still using it. This makes it difficult for consumers to know if pink slime is being used in their foods or not, and the only sure way to avoid it is to cook your own meat at home.