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Food Safety News

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NYT Uncovers ‘Hamburger’ Secret

Fatty slaughterhouse trimmings that previously could be used only for pet food or for making cooking oil are now being treated with an ammonia bath that produces a “pink slime” that is being used to make a treated product being sold as “hamburger” throughout the United States.

In a report that was difficult for some to read, the New York Times yesterday told the story of how a little known South Dakota company and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service since 2001 have worked together to allow bacteria-killing ammonia to be used as a “processing agent” to make a mash that is allowed to be used in hamburger without labeling or public warnings.

Spokesmen for McDonald’s and Burger King told the Washington Post the fast food hamburger joints plan to keep using the “pink slime” sold by Dakota Dunes, SD-based Beef Products Inc.

Beef Products Inc. was so successful in persuading FSIS of the effectiveness of its pathogen-killing ammonia that the company was exempted from routine testing.  However, the New York Times found government and industry records showing the substance Beef Products makes was contaminated with E. coli and Salmonella on numerous occasions.

Beef Products owner Eldon Roth makes big political contributions, mostly to politicians from both parties in South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska.  He contributed to both former President George W. Bush in 2004 and Sen. John McCain in 2008. His donations total six figures in the last decade, including his support for meat industry political action committees.

Nationally recognized food safety attorney Bill Marler said the New York Times story is one people should read in its entirety.  “It will make you look at hamburger differently, ” he said.  “It will also make you ashamed of corporate America and our own government.”

A glimpse of the “hamburger” production can be found in the following clip from “Food, Inc.”

© Food Safety News
  • Reader

    Your article is biased. I have no relationship to the food industry nor the mentioned company. I have read the NYT article. The conclusions presented in your article are opinions not facts. You promote your opinions in an hysterical manner. There appears to be merit to the discussed processing of beef “trimmings”. As in any large-scale process there may have been errors but there is no evidence that the company seeks to create a faulty product nor endanger the public. It is not in their interest to do so. The concept that a government entity is incompetent or prone to political influence is hardly surprising. While I would prefer that food was more accurately labeled this is a universal concern and not specific to this company. Ultimately it seems that this company has found an effective use of beef “trimmings” that decreases the cost of hamburger. I agree that there should be more monitoring of safety of the product and that it should be properly labeled but that is a universal and does not appear to be anything unique about this specific company. While I do not know the purpose of your publication if it is to be informative you did not succeed. If it is to be inflammatory than you were successful.

  • Deborah J. Boyd

    It is time we have an unbiased investigation of the Department of Ag, all food processors, and all companies in the food chain from feed to consumer. This is an area of capitalism that must be reigned in. We speak of Health Care reform!!! Autism and many other problems of our collective health may result from what we are consuming without knowing the relationship to our health.
    For instance we all drink chlorine in the water if we drink tap water. Add the ammonia and the possibility that we may be retaining many of these chemicals in our body???
    Let us investigate and get to the LCD of our health problems – our FOOD SUPPLY.

  • PeeBo

    Excuse me while I go puke…

  • http://none Name With Held

    I am ashamed to say that I am a usda employee.
    We are supposed to protect the consumer.
    I really don’t understand how politics and money
    work side by side against the public!

  • http://www.technerd.com james thompson

    I have been raised in the Meat industry. Here are my concerns.
    In the past this “meat” would not have been used in human food but pet food & down the chain of goods. Sold at a far lesser price.If “meat” was removed from the rest of the “meat” It was considered a byproduct if it went through any type of process & readded to the original “meat” it was an additive & had to be labled tested & content amount had to be disclosed. The meat now could not be called 100% ground beef or anything 100% due to having an additive. This product has no limit, no testing & no way for you to know if you are getting it. No discloseure to the public. It is a way to hide the CRAP they can`t sell & you wouldn`t buy for full price. The ammonia bath is a process let be honest, if you will eat it go ahead. I just want to know know before I eat meat from an ammonia bath, bacteria-killing ammonia in me might not be a good thing. I hate to think that the food I am going to eat NEEDS to go through a bacteria-killing ammonia bath before I can eat it.
    If that is what they want to hand me through the window, I may as well walk into a Subway.

  • Label Lover

    This article is not the print-out of the studies it describes, it is meant to be opinionated. If you disagree, then fine. I don’t. James Thompson has an incredibly good point and lays out clearly why there is a problem with the lack of labeling of this obviously processed food. Read it please.
    Agri-business does not have a desire to make an unsafe product of course, doing so has the chance to damage the company and its customers. HOWEVER, it is painfully naive for one to believe that these companies aren’t willing to calculate that risk and make decisions that aren’t completely based on whether or not their product is ABSOLUTELY safe. They find the balance between cost of production, risk management (political and economic), and profitability. Imagine a bar graph with the horizontal axis being the amount of ammonia used and the vertical axis being the output of the following functions:
    (1) marketability of the product which decreases from left to right as higher ammonia means a less-desired product
    (2) costs of doing [bad] business; legal battles, labeling legality, political contributions, etc which also decreases from left to right as you would expect a safer product to require less legal hammering to make… legal
    (3) and the costs associated with the actual process, which increases from left to right as processes to make the product ‘safe to consume’ via higher ammonia concentration and/or other processes of “deshittifying” raises the overhead of your business.
    - The golden area on the graph where these three lines meet is where the agri-business makes its decision, NOT off of the actual safety or legality of their product.