The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry this week sent the following letter about lean, finely textured beef on behalf of the beef industry and the Oklahoma Beef Council. The letter is addressed to state school district superintendents as they make nutrition decisions for the school year:
You probably have received a few questions or wondered yourself about lean, finely textured beef, or what the media are calling “pink slime.” I can understand why! I’m a rancher and the father of three little girls in the Stillwater school system. Unfortunately, as with so many things, it’s hard to discern the facts from the hype. Here’s what you should know and can share with anyone asking you about lean, finely textured beef:
Lean, finely textured beef is just that -- beef. When steaks and roasts are cut, it creates the “trim” that becomes ground beef. The companies supplying lean, finely textured beef use a process to remove a lot of the fat from the lean beef in the trim, which is then added to ground beef as a concentrated, lean source of protein. Though some media outlets are reporting this product is a filler, that’s not true. It’s beef plain and simple.
The nutritional profiles of lean finely textured beef and traditional ground beef are nearly identical. Lean, finely textured beef is 90% to 95% lean (5%-10% fat) and, just like all beef, is a good or excellent source of 10 essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins.
Lean, finely textured beef offers affordable nutrition for kids, which is critical given shrinking school budgets, rising food costs and the fact that for many kids, school lunch is their best chance at a getting a well-balanced meal during the day.
Ground beef that includes lean finely textured beef is safe according to independent scientists, safety advocates and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). By law, E. coli and Salmonella cannot be in meat supplied for school lunch. In some cases, a small, safe amount of ammonia gas or citric acid is used to produce the lean finely textured beef, which like other safety measures along the way, reduces the potential for bacterial contamination. FSIS has reviewed and approved this practice as safe, and safety advocates have applauded it as an effective way of ensuring safe beef for consumers.
Processing aids like ammonia gas, citric acid and others do not appear singled out on food labels because by definition and by law, they do not affect the finished food. According to the Food and Drug Administration, labeling of “incidental additives” like these processing aids would be impracticable and might draw undue attention to what essentially amounts to meaningless trace amounts.
You may be wondering if we’re talking about the same product after all you’ve heard or read about “pink slime,” but the fact is, the gross descriptions of this product and process that are circulating out there just aren’t true. Lean, finely textured beef is simply a low-fat source of beef protein, that when added to ground beef, is just another ingredient in the ground beef dishes you know and love.
There are a number of resources available if you’re interested in learning more or looking for information to share, including: a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; video of the process from one of the lean finely textured beef suppliers, Beef Products Inc.; an interview and expert Q&A with Dr. Russell Cross, former FSIS administrator and current head of the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University; and a “pink slime” myth debunking website.
Thank you for your time. Please feel free to contact our executive director, Heather Buckmaster, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-840-3777, if you have additional questions or concerns and she would be happy to connect you to any number of experts on this issue.
Secretary-Treasurer and board member
Oklahoma Beef Council