Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pink Slime

That's what a former U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist called "ground beef" produced by a company called Beef Products. This vile alleged food product is used in about half of all fast food burgers in the U.S. and in the nation's school lunch program.

The "ground beef" in question is in fact fatty trimmings that until about 2000 were considered unfit for human consumption and used for cat food. One of the reasons: the substance is far more prone to e coli and salmonella contamination.

Enter one Eldon N. Roth, an enterprising, self-taught chemist, who proposed dousing these inedible beef byproducts with ammonia to kill bacteria. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Argriculture (let's see, who was president in 2001? Let me think, let me think) gave him the green light. The government even decided the company didn't have to list ammonia as an ingredient, so not many people knew that fast food restaurants and schools were feeding people a powerful cleaning agent.

The advantage? It's cheaper, about 3 cents less a pound.

Oh, and by the way, it appears that the process doesn't work that well. The beef still gets contaminated with e coli and salmonella. To really work, the ammonia level apparently has to be so high that the "hamburger," which comes in frozen blocks, smells like a pool.

All this from a truly appalling New York Times story published several days ago. I dare you to read it and go to McDonald's or give your kid money for a school lunch.

My favorite is the quote from Mr. Roth: “Like any responsible member of the meat industry, we are not perfect.”

Responsible member of the meat industry? Not perfect? Dude, you're feeding potentially contaminated cat food to kids and adults after slathering it with a powerful chemical normally used to clean floors -- really dirty floors. And you've gotten rich off it.

Words fail.

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