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Is “pink slime” coming to a school near you? Time to ask

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Update: the USDA announced on March 15 that schools would be able to opt out of the beef-trimming, ammonia-treated “lean finely textured beef” known as “pink slime.” Under the change, schools will be able to choose between 95 percent lean beef patties made with the product or less lean bulk ground beef without it, according to the Associated Press. 

Do you know what could be coming to a school lunch line near you?

Pink slime. The blogosphere’s been filled with reports that the USDA bought 7 million pounds of the stuff for school lunches. The story was first reported by the Daily. 

What is it? It’s basically a meat byproduct, which is essentially the connective tissue and other non-meaty stuff a butcher cuts off your meat before you take it home. The scrap material is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill off any potentially dangerous bacteria, then packaged up and shipped to grocery stores, restaurants, and yes, schools.

According to a 2009 New York Times report, tests of the ammonia-treated meat from schools across the country revealed dozens of instances of salmonella and E. coli pathogens. The findings of these reports prompted fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell to quit buying the stuff and using it in their burgers or burritos.

Granted, it might be an exaggeration to call it “pink slime.” It does not appear to be oozy or slippery, but it is pinkish, and it is mixed with ground beef to stretch it. Let’s face it, budgets are tight – especially school budgets.

BPI (Beef Products Inc.) maintain its product is safe and says that ammonium hydroxide is a “natural compound” widely used in the processing of many foods. The USDA agrees.

“All USDA ground beef purchases must meet the highest standards for food safety,” the agency said in a statement. “USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce that we have confidence are safe.”

However, don’t expect to find “ammonia” listed on the label of the next package of ground beef you buy. Because it’s considered a processing agent vs. an ingredient, it doesn’t have to be mentioned.

I will be the first to admit I actually ate a hotdog on the ski slopes the other day. I would never, ever want to go to a facility that makes hot dogs. I would never want to see what went into the big pig blender.

But considering the spotty safety record with this particular beef-related product, is it really wise to use it in school lunch?

EdNews Parent expert and “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper, who also oversees school food in Boulder Valley, assured me that no “pink slime” will make it into Boulder Valley school lunches (where my daughter attends school) but could very well make its way into other Colorado district lunches.

Denver parents, you can rest easy, too.

DPS Food and Nutrition Services posted the above photo on its Facebook page with a photo of very lean, reddish ground beef.

“DPS purchases some raw beef from the USDA in addition to purchasing beef from a local supplier, we only purchase products that are 100% beef, which means the product referred to as “Pink Slime” is not in any of our lunches or food items. Our meat suppliers provide meat products that do not use ammonia hydroxide treatment or lean beef trimmings.”

DPS school board member Andrea Merida weighed in on the news:

“Excellent…I’ve been reassuring people of this. I really appreciate the hard work the department has done in incorporating school garden produce, scratch cooking, and local food buys. Keep up the good work.”

9NEWS covered the story, too. 9Health reporter Dr. John Torres said ammonia isn’t dangerous to humans in this quantity. However, he also said he is more concerned about the possible E. coli and salmonella that could still exist in the beef byproducts, even after the chemical treatment. He also noted that the meat byproducts don’t have the same nutritional value as pure ground beef because they’re not made of muscle. has a petition going around that is quickly racking up signatures. As of Wednesday, there were 224,050 signatures. This is one campaign you might want to join. Or, at least talk to the people in charge of your child’s school lunch program to make sure kids are actually eating meat if hamburgers are on the menu.

For more stories about school wellness, check out EdNews Parent, and consider following us on Facebook or Twitter, and signing up for the e-mail newsletter. 

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  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck March 15, 2012

    So, now I’m wondering about Jeffco?

  • comment avatar Julie Poppen March 15, 2012

    Check out the update on the top of this post. The USDA is now going to allow districts to opt out of using this stuff in school lunches. It will be labeled. In the past, school cooks probably purchased their USDA allotment in good faith – without even knowing this stuff was in the meat. Now they’ll now- and be able to choose. Still worth talking to whoever runs your district’s nutritional services office.

  • comment avatar Jen March 15, 2012

    I think it’s going to be another division of the haves and have-nots. Wealthier school districts will not purchase it, because the parents are more knowledgable about pink slime and would raise holy hell about it in the lunches. Poorer districts don’t have the money to consider other options. I’m angry that it’s even being considered for schools. When did feeding our kids become so low on the importance scale?

  • comment avatar Kayla March 15, 2012

    Maybe I’m cynical on this issue but it seems to me there are a lot of crappy ingredients in school food across the board. We (the country) subsidize school lunches/ breakfasts for those who can’t afford them making them free/ very cheap. There are schools who are sending collection agencies after some parents for not paying the tab on their kids lunches. Children from middle- upper class families are most likely packing their lunches daily, particularly in more affluent areas so schools probably are not running a profit on the food. I think they are doing it because it’s cheap, I don’t think they care about the health of the students overall or the food across the board would be healthier.

  • comment avatar JoAnn March 15, 2012

    What’s interesting is that the different charters with in the district (JeffCo anyway) sometimes use a totally different food service anyway. Ours uses a completely different company from JeffCo…

  • comment avatar Bryony March 15, 2012

    I make sure my daughter gets the vegetarian option much healthier and no pink slime. i personally think its gross and they should not be adding it to the meat.the schools want to complain how kids need to eat healthier well they should take a long hard look at their food first. just sayin’.

  • comment avatar Bryony March 15, 2012

    just called my daughters school and according to the kitchen manager jeffco will not be using anything with pink slime in it.

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