Every day last week at least one or two supermarket chains announced they had made the decision to stop selling ground beef containing lean finely textured beef, also known as LFTB. Most American consumers know LFTB by the term it was dubbed ten years ago by a United States Department of Agriculture microbiologist who referred to it in an email to his colleagues as “pink slime.”
According to ABC News, whose story on “pink slime” helped start the discussion, 70 percent of all store-bought ground beef contains LFTB.
In a statement, Safeway, the nation’s second largest supermarket chain said “considerable consumer concern” led to its decision, even though the grocery chain admits it has no safety concerns with the product.
In a statement released late last week, Des Moines-based Hy-Vee said it will no longer purchase products containing LFTB due to a “loss of consumer confidence in the product.”
Others steering clear of LFTB include Kroger, Supervalu and Food Lion. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club will begin offering fresh ground beef that does not contain lean finely textured beef. Kroger’s decision also affects their Stop & Shop stores, Supervalu owns and operates Acme, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher’s, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw’s/Star Market, Shop ‘n Save and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy stores. Food Lion also operates Bloom, Harvey’s and Reid’s stores.
New York City Department of Education announced they would eliminate LFTB products from the school menu next school year
USDA announced that it will disclose to school districts which of its suppliers use LFTB so administrators can decide whether to purchase it or not. USDA also announced that beginning next fall schools will have the option to choose between 95 percent lean beef patties made with the product or less lean bulk ground beef that does not contain it.
So what is it about LFTB that has everyone so worked up? To make LFTB,Gregg Rentfrow, associate Extension professor of Meat Science at the University of Kentucky told Brownfield Ag News “They take these lean trimmings and centrifuge them to remove the fat.” Rentfrow says because of the centrifugation process, there could be pathogens present and to ensure safety, the LFTB is “puffed” with ammonia hydroxide gas.
He says the ammonia hydroxide gas is not your household ammonia and has been on the Generally Recognized as Safe list for over 20 years. Rentfrow said the products used for LFTB have all gone through the USDA and FDA approval processes. “The meat science community was asked to create a safe product,” he said. “This enables us to create a safe and cheap food for the marketplace.”
Personally, I have absolutely no concern about the safety of LFTB. I prefer an all- natural ground beef product. I think it tastes better. I am willing to pay more for beef I find to be more palatable. It will be interesting to see if other consumers are willing to do the same.
I understand that the ammonia is a processing agent, not an ingredient. I get it. But there are a lot of people out there who feel like they have been hoodwinked. They feel like mixing LFTB with ground beef and labeling it as ground beef is a form of fraudulent labeling.
I think USDA’s failure to respond to consumer concerns more quickly created a great deal of uneasiness and distrust of the product.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what I think. If the consumers of our agricultural products believe we are not transparent at any level– from farm to fork – then we need to take a hard look at our products and our processes and do a better job of educating.