As Beef Products Inc. was being “slimed” this week —  from the blogosphere to network television — David M. Theno was feeling unusually helpless watching from Tampa where he was keynoting the 2012 Annual Beef Industry Safety Summit, along with Food Safety News publisher Bill Marler.


Theno, the guru who was brought in to save Jack in the Box after the infamous 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, has become one of the nation’s elite food safety consultants through his Del Mar, CA-based Gray Dog Partners.


He was among those who emerged Thursday wondering how boneless lean beef trimmings by South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. (BPI) could be so maligned by name-calling.


“It is so far off base, it’s just incredible,” Theno told Food Safety News.


And one problem, he says, is that responding to all the misinformation is more complicated than a 10-second television sound bite. Those attacking BPI have that covered. All they have to say is: pink slime.


Those who are campaigning to get USDA to drop plans to purchase an estimated 7 million pounds of lean beef trim are among those calling the product “pink slime” in an Internet petition campaign.


Theno, who has done consulting for BPI, begins by pointing out that – while difficult – any home cook could separate beef fat from beef muscle with a knife and cutting board, creating the same boneless lean beef trimmings.


But long lines of butchers working with knives on such a difficult task would not be economically feasible. That’s why before BPI came up with a mechanized process to do this, such trimmings were often leftovers that ended up being used for pets or oils.


To reduce waste and increase protein, BPI did its own research and development and came up with a proprietary process. While the company does protect its intellectual property, it is not secretive when it comes to sharing the outcomes.


The BPI grinding process is built around a centrifuge that removes beef fat, resulting in a product that is 90 percent or more lean beef.  The process includes the use of an ammonia and water bath (ammonium hydroxide), which has proven to be one of the beef industry’s most successful interventions against harmful bacteria — microbes that can sicken and kill.


It works as an antimicrobial agent by slightly increasing the naturally occurring ammonium hydroxide levels in beef and by doing so eliminates harmful pathogens. The use of ammonium hydroxide is not uncommon in food manufacturing.


It is used as a leavening agent in baking, to produce caramel, and in drinking water.  It’s used in grains, baked goods, condiments, pancakes, chocolates, puddings and cheeses.


At BPI, the result is a flash frozen product, inexpensive and safe, for hamburger patties, taco meat and sausages.


On Wednesday, ABC World News Tonight reported that 70 percent of the hamburger sold in America contains the BPI ingredient as a “filler,” which the network incorrectly said is not meat.


And The Daily, the iPad-friendly newspaper, ran a couple stories earlier in the week over USDA’s purchase this year of seven million pounds of lean beef from trim for the National School Lunch program.


Two former USDA employees, Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer, reportedly remain upset over the government’s acceptance of BPI’s beef product, a decision that dates back almost 20 years ago.


ABC claimed that the then-assistant secretary for USDA’s Marketing and Inspection Service, Jo Ann Smith, overruled unnamed “scientists” on lean beef from trim. And ABC linked that decision to Smith later being named to the board of directors of an unnamed BPI supplier.


BPI’s defenders see all of this as pure fiction.


Now 74, Smith has been recognized for both her good character and glass-ceiling shattering accomplishments, based mostly on achievements outside government.  Smith was the first woman president of the powerful Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Association.


She is credited with founding the National Beef Promotion and Research Board, and coming up with the Beef Check-off for marketing U.S. beef worldwide.  Until recently, Smith served on corporate boards of some of the world’s largest agriculture-related companies, including Iowa Beef Producers, Purina Mills and Tyson Foods.


ABC did not say which of Smith’s board assignments was supposedly related to her decisions involving BPI during her government service, which ran from 1989 to 1993, perhaps because the allegation is pure speculation.


Theno says that then as now, any USDA decision was not made by any one person but by multiple layers of people over time in typical government decision-making mode.


Both government and industry experts are confident about the wholesomeness of boneless lean beef trimmings.


USDA says it has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce that it has confidence are safe.


The American Meat Institute (AMI) says boneless lean beef trimming (BLBT) are safe, wholesome and nutritious and calls the process similar to separating cream from milk.


Small cuts of meats left over from larger cuts are trimmed down, then run through a process to take the fats away — and the end result is nutritious, lean beef, says AMI. Everything is done under USDA inspection.


AMI says utilizing boneless lean beef trimmings in a world where red meat protein supplies are decreasing and global demand is increasing is a good thing.  Demand is rising because  both world population and incomes are rising.


“Some recent media reports created a troubling and inaccurate picture, particularly in their use of the colloquial term ‘pink slime,’ ” AMI said in a statement.  “The fact is, BLBT is beef.  The beef trimmings that are used to make BLBT are absolutely edible.  In fact, no process can somehow make inedible meat edible;  it’s impossible. In reality, the BLBT production process simply removes fat and makes the remaining beef more lean and suited to a variety of beef products that satisfy consumers’ desire for leaner foods.


“In fact, BLBT is a sustainable product because it recovers lean meat that would otherwise be wasted. The beef industry is proud to efficiently produce as much lean meat as possible from the cattle we raise.  It’s the right thing to do and it ensures that our products remain as affordable as we can make them while helping to feed America and the world.”


For its part, BPI produced statements of support from consumer and industry food leaders.


Keith Nunes, executive editor of Food Business News, said negative depictions of BPI’s use of ammonium hydroxide were “distressing” because the process was “generally recognized as safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as long ago as 1974.  It was approved for use as a food safety agent in 2001.


Nancy Donley, founder of STOP Foodborne Illness, said she was “encouraged to see a company like BPI taking the bull by the horns and independently test for those killer pathogens before being required to by government…”


BPI has been called “extraordinarily creative in developing ways to protect consumers from pathogens in meat” by Carole Tucker-Foreman, Distinguished Fellow at the Food Policy Institute, Consumer Federation of America.


BPI has also been recognized for its leadership in “testing and holding” beef —
waiting for pathogen test results before releasing beef into commerce —  first for E. coli O157:H7 and more recently for six other disease-causing strains of  E. coli.


  • Madeline

    Evil foodie wingnuts (EFWs) aspire to destroy our mostly OK food system for a variety of subversive reasons known only to themselves. Because they have no proven viable alternatives for feeding the world and little or no real hope of devising any, they are left with only two approaches – prevaricating & smearing. If you will notice, EFWs vacillate wildly from dreaming elaborate self-flattering fantasies to attacking real food producers in the most deceptive and hateful fashion. That EFWs scream with their mouths full from the shelter of their own biased organizations is a hypocrisy readily apparent to sane observers. And it is as offensive as it is hugely tedious. Whenever I hear asinine descriptors like “pink slime”, “highly toxic”, “dead food”, “weakened immunity”, “know your farmer”, “organic”, “biodynamic”, “detoxification”, and all the rest, well, I know right then and there I’m being confronted by an unreasoning EFW. And I know I am in for another tedious spittle-flecked negative diatribe with no redeeming value. Just another hateful attack on reality by a hopelessly self-deluded fool. I no longer have pity for these damaged creatures — there is only a mutual loathing.

  • Michael Bulger

    I was ready to comment that BLBT had a PR problem because it is unappetizing, albeit safe. Then I went back and read the NYTimes article of 2009:
    Just how effective is the ammonia treatment in comparison to other operations? They seem to have their fair share of contamination issues.

  • Mae Johns

    So where’s the nutrition information for this stuff? If it’s “lean beef”, it should have the same nutrition profile as ground beef. Before I pass judgment, I would need to see that.

  • harv

    So you wonder why people get any diseases etc when eating ammonia? Marler is looking like someone on the take from BPI. As a good attorney, you can support both sides of any argument. Ammonia in food is a bad argument and I bet you don’t eat it.

  • Wendy

    Where do food snobs who prefer to eat vegetables grown in manure get off turning up their noses at anything? The pot calling the kettle black except ammonium hydroxide is cleaner than manure. I’ll take “pink slime” over “organic sprouts” any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

  • Harv:
    I do not get the comment:
    “Marler is looking like someone on the take from BPI. As a good attorney, you can support both sides of any argument.”

  • Carl Custer

    The original issue in 1990 was, “is this salvage product meat?”
    I believe it is not based on U.S.C. 21 601 & 602.
    For funzies read sec 602
    Then check out table 2 in Finely Textured Lean Beef as an Ingredient for Processed Meats, a 1996 Iowa State paper by Joe Sebranek
    It’s not bad stuff, but it’s not meat and should not, according to 9 CFR 319.15 (a)(b), be in hamburger or ground beef. Patties yes (c). Look it up for grins.

  • Tiffany

    Madeline, not everyone criticizing this process is an Evil Foodie Wingnut as you so affectionately put it. Consumers have the right to demand information and explanation and I believe that is what people are doing at this point. As I’m sure there are things that you consume, wear, or use of which you would be interested in knowing the processes of production. I think beef processors should be welcoming the inquiries and responding kindly. Unfortunately, they have not done a good job of that so far.

  • NoMoreMrPoliteGuy

    Oh, Tiff, “the inquiries” as you so innocently, so gently, so deceptively spin the nasty “pink slime” smear would be unwelcome by any reasonable entity. Your breathtakingly smug inference is that you expect a “kind response” to any and every slander Evil Foodie Wingnuts might dish out. Ain’t gonna happen no mo’, honey.

  • Sammy

    I bet thats true you can eat it but to slip it in quietly and not tell anyone is what I don’t like. If your not ashamed of it being in your beef. Put it on the labels. Just like what country your food is from should be labeled. I’d like to see “grass fed” beef and this beef was kept in a feed lot and fed corn not grass thats why there are a lot of antiboitics in the meat. Why don’t they put that on the label? Cause nobody would buy it!

  • Dave

    This situation is all relatively simple. For BPI, it’s profit based, as it would be for any company. How do we cut down on waste and maximize profit? My questions would be which person(s) is going to step forward and make the necessary changes to pacify the majority of speculators? Whether reported false or truthfully by the media is no longer a moot point. A change will have to be made for consumers to keep purchasing this company’s by-product. What that change may be, I couldn’t begin to guess. What I do know is the longer the company ‘treads water’ the more customers it is losing. This opportunity will not go away, if ignored by BPI.

  • Carlie

    Sammy, cattle in feedlots do graze on grass pastures and lush wheat grass for most of their life, and you won’t find a bunch of antibiotics in the meat! I would most certainly buy meat for my family that I knew came from cattle that spent the last few months at a feedlot. I know they were offered a great diet recommended by a knowledgable nutritionist and cared for by many great people and veterinarians. Veterinarians who recommend antibiotics only to the animals that need them, for an illness that can be taken care of by them, instead of making them suffer through it. I appreciate that you want to know which country your beef comes from. Even though I know many other countries supply great beef I am proud to be a US beef producer that also supplies a wholesale, safe and nutritious product to the world! Before you bash conventional beef production please take a minute to think about the many people that now have access to an affordable great source of protein because of the improvements in production and food safety.

  • jon

    From the article above:
    >Theno, who has done consulting for BPI, begins by pointing
    >out that – while difficult – any home cook could separate
    >beef fat from beef muscle with a knife and cutting board, >creating the same boneless lean beef trimmings.
    I imagine that this process is safer and more cost-effective than requiring the assembly-line of workers with knives to carefully make use of the beef closest to the connective and fatty tissue, but that’s not what this is.
    The following is from the NYT article Michael Bulger posted above:
    >According to a 2003 study financed by Beef Products, the >trimmings “typically includes most of the material from the >outer surfaces of the carcass” and contains “larger >microbiological populations.” Beef Products said it also >used trimmings from inside cuts of meat.
    So it sounds like the starting point would include much more fat and other tissue relative to beef as compared with Theno’s description of a familiar home-prepared meal.
    But then what about the manufacturing process? These beef, fat, and other “trimmings” are then chemically washed in ammonium hydroxide, centrifuged to separate out the fat, and flash frozen.
    I’m not sure what you should call this end product, but it does not sound like “ground beef”. This product might be leaner than most ground beef and include chemical properties of beef, but surely it is not the typical consumers’s understanding of ground beef–both in terms of the starting ingredients and how it is transformed.
    And what about the ammonia? Of course, this is about food safety–and ammonia has been essential in reducing the cases of e coli and salmonella. But as the NYT article points out, cooks and kids complained that they could actually smell the ammonia. It is true that ammonia is naturally occurring in beef, but the concentration is much higher in this product in order to kill the higher concentrations of bacteria in the near-carcus trimmings.
    from the NYT:
    >Untreated beef naturally contains ammonia and is typically >about 6 on the pH scale, near that of rain water and milk.
    >The Beef Products’ study that won U.S.D.A. approval used an >ammonia treatment that raised the pH of the meat to as high
    >as 10, an alkalinity well beyond the range of most foods.
    So why not be honest and label the product’s ingredients to include ammonia?
    >Represented by Dennis R. Johnson, a top lawyer and lobbyist >for the meat industry, Beef Products prevailed on the
    >question of whether ammonia should be listed as an
    >ingredient, arguing that the government had just decided >against requiring another company to list a chemical used
    >in treating poultry.
    I guess the USDA had to be fair in terms of allowing non-disclosure, but what about allowing consumers to make informed decisions about the products they buy? Does the USDA and Beef Products know better than customers (or school lunch officials) what is best for themselves and the kids?
    >The use of ammonium hydroxide is not uncommon in food >manufacturing.
    It’s nice to be in good company, but the status quo doesn’t argue for better or worse (e.g., US smoking habits before 1960s). And what if ammonia became more and more common in the food supply, based on these precedents? Has it been demonstrated whether high amounts of exposure are safe or not?
    Beef Products had the same concerns at one point. They ultimately lowered the concentration of ammonia (perhaps due to smell complaints), but then had to balance this with safety.
    from the NYT:
    >This month, Beef Products provided The Times with new
    >research that the company said showed that E. coli and >salmonella were undetectable at a pH level of 8.5.
    Does AMI protest too much?
    >”Some recent media reports created a troubling and
    >inaccurate picture, particularly in their use of the >colloquial term ‘pink slime,’ ” AMI said in a statement.
    >”The fact is, BLBT is beef. The beef trimmings that are
    >used to make BLBT are absolutely edible. In fact, no
    >process can somehow make inedible meat edible;
    To be precise, we should distinguish between “edible” and “palatable” since these terms are interchangeable when used colloquially.
    While even a roach is edible (digestible), it may not be palatable (acceptable to the taste and mind). Referring back to the Beef Products study on the use ammonia in this product,
    >The company’s 2003 study cited the “potential issues >surrounding the palatability of a pH-9.5 product.”
    I think, ultimately, the consumers of this product should be treated with respect. Rather than saying, “trust us, we know better”, the USDA/meat producers should be more honest with the public and let us make up our own minds.
    We should be able to determine what we consider palatable (and not merely edible) based on our own taste, which can include an understanding of what goes into our food.

  • Adam

    Rather surprising so many effete food snobs with such delicate sophisticated palates could not physically discern any difference in taste, texture, nothing…not until they were told were their impeccable standards egregiously violated. Then the “ah ha, we can use the gross-out factor to smear BPI, yay!!” opportunity sharpened the ol’ taste buds. Never mind the product is innovative, safe, edible and, yes, palatable (even food snobs can’t tell, remember). Notice however; for all their whining protestations, professional industry haters certainly drool over this product…as a convenient bludgeon with which to arm their dogmatic anti-agriculture sermons. The transparent insincerity of these irrepressible ideologues is stunning.

  • Allen

    If the stuff is so fantastic, why is it being hidden on food labels? Let the market decide. Require meat with it to have a 2″ label clearly stating “Pink Slime Inside” Then the public can make the choice.

  • jon

    >Rather surprising so many effete food snobs with such >delicate sophisticated palates could not physically discern >any difference in taste, texture, nothing…not until they >were told were their impeccable standards egregiously >violated.
    so who are you referring to? out of 15 comments so far, there are only 4 that mention “pink slime” and all of them are angry reactions to other comments accusing them of being elitist snobs or foodies.
    If I was a cynic, I would say that a single person who loves to say “snob” is monitoring these comments for any whiff of criticism.
    In my post I mention “pink slime” as a quote, and in case you missed it, it was the company, Beef Products, who questioned whether their own product was palatable…
    >The company’s 2003 study cited the “potential issues >surrounding the palatability of a pH-9.5 product.”
    By contrast, almost all of the comments that you would label elitist and insincere are actually expressing reasonable questions–some with links to other sources to back up their arguments, whereas you are attacking the commenters without knowing anything about their sincerity.

  • G. Manley Johnson

    Everything is not about you, Jon.
    I think Adam was spot-on with his point re: the yuck factor being used to induce a sudden, otherwise inexplicable perception of unpalatability. Your own psychogenically charged panning of an otherwise innocuous product supports his observation of political opportunism.
    Can’t speak for Adam but I certainly wish “food snobs” didn’t exist at all, then we wouldn’t have to utter that descriptive term to which you seem to take personal umbrage.

  • Rob

    If the industry was using it for animals, then let them continue and keep it out of human food. If the meat that is being processed is so clean then why the need for ammonium hydroxide? The problem comes from the lack of transparency for decisions regarding our food supply. The producers and the FDA are driven by the almighty dollar, not our need for healthy products.

  • slomo

    What about Mrs smith that approved using pink slime despite her scientific sfaff opposittion?

  • Mary Anne

    Finally – thank you all for giving us another reason for organic.

  • John

    QUOTE: “Theno, who has done consulting for BPI, begins by pointing out that – while difficult – any home cook could separate beef fat from beef muscle with a knife and cutting board, creating the same boneless lean beef trimmings.” “That’s why before BPI came up with a mechanized process to do this, such trimmings were often leftovers that ended up being used for pets”
    Really?! What home cook even bother doing this, much less want serve this to any family member or guest. In my part of the world (Upper Midwest USA) dogs typically get the bones, trimmings, and leftovers anyway.
    “In fact, no process can somehow make inedible meat edible; it’s impossible.” But there are, apparently, processes that can macerate and disguise the unpalatable by blending it into a desirable product. What’s that called again? That’s right, a filler! And why are fillers used in food products? Is it because it benefits the consumer? No silly! It’s so the corporations’ don’t have to spend so much on quality ingredients. It’s been done with beer, cereals,
    “In reality, the BLBT production process simply removes fat and makes the remaining beef more lean and suited to a variety of beef products that satisfy consumers’ desire for leaner foods.”
    Or does it REALLY satisfy corporations’ desire for leaner expenses and increased profits despite what consumers truly want.

  • scbain62869

    firstly, i can understand the concern of everyone who doubt the pureness of this product… as i understand, it IS beef… and when it is ground, it becomes ground beef… the ammonia hydroxide is used to dimenish the bacteria numbers which is more prevelent in outside and inside cuts… when cooked, and even before then, most, if not, all of the ammonia, if it is present, will disperse…
    since, it is beef, and since it is ground, i see no reason to have to differentiate between it or any other ground beef with labeling…
    as a meat manager and meat cutter, we do not use this product at our facility, but, i personally do not see any reason why this product, or anything like it shouldn’t be used as a perfectly good source of protein for humans to consume…

  • Ed

    law-suit isioals

  • AER

    After reading everything in this post and several others, I come to the conclusion that the lack of beef proteins is highly important. It may be “beef”, but it is very poor quality beef protein, and should be labeled as such.
    Should it be taken out of our food chain? Probably not necessary, IF and ONLY IF it is clearly labeled as to its quality and proper use.

  • vet Barnes

    The commentators against the facts are obviously part of the scare mongering animal rights cult members because they refuses to accept facts. It is beef, yes we are human beings and we should be eating meat. In fact our bodies require meat or our brain become irrational. Active VB12 is required to keep our brains working effectively and ACTIVE VB12 is only found in meat. The VB12 that comes in plant form is inactive in the human body. It does in fact make the human body require more meat or ACTIVE VB12. The animal rights position of eating only strict vegan is a dangerous one for all human beings. 12 million children die each year from lack of protein in developing countries even when they have plenty of plant material. Now we are seeing children of vegan parents who won’t allow any part of animal to be consumed with signs of malnutrition normally found only in the developing countries. In fact 16 infants of strict vegan parents have died of malnutrition and the parents have gone to jail for enforcing such and abusive diet on their own children. The inability to think rationally is clear in these vegan parents who allowed their children to die from lack of high quality protein. Not all human beings can digest plant protein and many cannot consume grains at all. This philosophical idea that came from the irrational brains of long term vegans like Steve Best or Peter Singer or Wayne Pacelle are dangerous for all human beings as they try to force their illogical and irrational views upon all Americans though lies and propaganda. The facts are human beings are omnivores not by choice but by necessity that means both plants and meat according to the nutrient requirements of our bodies. Science, nature, and biology states we need to eat meat in moderate amounts. To do less is abuse of your body and the future generations of human beings.
    This woman obviously has no ability to think, but just to spout off the radical thoughts of irrational beings who have chosen to deprive their bodies of the proper nutrients necessary for the human body. If someone said they didn’t need VD or VA or VC we would think they are crazy because the results are well known that you would suffer serious health consequences. Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin(e) because it contains cobalt, is a very important essential nutrient: among other things we use it to synthesise red blood cells and maintain the health of our nervous systems and deficiencies can cause all sorts of neurological damage. that are just no non-animal sources of B12. She also lists several harrowing outcomes of B12 deficiency: blindness, brain-damage, infertility, miscarriage and children with impaired cognitive ability and major skin and muscle wasting:
    There is active VB12 from meat only and inactive VB12 from plants. The terrible sticking point. Just ac­cept it: there are no non-animal sources of ACTIVE VB12 and you can end up blind or brain-damaged without it.286 B12 deficiency also leads to infertility, miscarriage, and maybe Alzheimer’s.
    Here’s what you’ll do to your kids: neurological damage that could well be permanent. Breast-fed infants of vegan mothers can have brain abnormalities from lack of B12. Kids on vegan diets “demonstrated neurological impairments that persisted, even when animal products were added later.” Similarly, B12 levels in the blood of formerly vegan children remained low even after animal products were added back into their diets. And vegan children scored “sub­stantially lower on tests measuring spatial ability, short-term memory and ‘fluid intelligence,’ defined as ‘the capacity to solve complex problems, abstract thinking ability and the ability to learn.’” An­other study found “major skin and muscle wasting … in 30% of the macrobiotic infants.” (240-241).
    “In one small community of vegans, twenty-five infants had pro­tein and frank calorie deficiencies, anemia from a lack of both iron and B12, rickets, zinc deficiencies, and retarded growth. One baby died, weighing at five months less than when she was born.292 I know what I did to myself being a vegan; I shudder when I think of what I could have done to a child.” (241)
    These are the experiences of long term vegans who have depleted their VB12 stores after many years. These accounts and studies are being attacked by non scientific studies of the animal rigths movement because they don’t want you to eat meat. Why because they are quite simply brain damaged and can no longer think rationally as evidenced by their inability to accept facts from experts.