In the wake of a New York Times expose, which scrutinized the widespread use of ammoniated meat in ground beef products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced in a directive that it will no longer exclude the chemically-treated beef from testing regulations.

The directive provides new directions for FSIS personnel on how to implement routine sampling of ammoniated, or “pH enhanced,” beef products for E. coli O157:H7 in raw beef products.

hamburger-6.jpgThough FSIS did not indicate in the directive when the new testing protocol will become mandatory, the notice indicates a significant shift in how the agency regulates the chemically treated beef.

As the New York Times piece indicated at the end of December, ammoniated beef, manufactured by Beef Products Inc., had been previously excluded from testing requirements because the ammonia is supposed to raise the pH levels in the meat to kill off pathogens.

According to The Times, the USDA decided in 2007 that the ammonia process was so effective they exempted the treated beef–which is widely used by major fast food chains and the USDA National School Lunch Program–from routine pathogen testing.

However, The Times, citing government and industry testing records, reported that the treated beef was found contaminated with E. coli and Salmonella dozens of times over the past few years.

The Times findings have put considerable pressure on USDA officials to revisit the issue.

It remains to be seen whether FSIS’ decsion to implement a testing program will be enough to dampen concerns over the ammoniated beef process. Though The Times piece focused on the efficacy of the process–it clearly found that the ammonia did not always kill dangerous pathogens effectively–there was considerable consumer outrage over the simple fact that ammonia was used in beef products to begin with.

Twitter, for example, continues to be abuzz over the findings.

“Yummy! Ammonia treated pink slime in most US ground beef,” “Gross! No more ground beef for me,” “Have some ammonia with your beef, maybe some E. coli too?” were among the thousands of comments in the twittersphere.

Despite the apparent yuck factor, the Associated Press reported recently that the big buyers of ammoniated beef–McDonalds, Burger King, and Cargill–were undeterred by the article and will continue to purchase the treated beef.