Pink Slime: It’s What’s for Lunch

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Ham sandwich on wheat bread, Seyfert’s sour cream and onion potato chips, pineapple and half a Little Debbie treat was my lunch everyday throughout elementary school (I was a little OCD as a child). Not the healthiest lunch, but twenty years ago portions were smaller, chips weren’t made with hydrogenated oils and fruits weren’t genetically modified. Also, juice boxes were expensive and thermoses were still around so instead of juice flavored sugar water, my mom packed milk or water.

Fast forward to 2012 and Strawberry Shortcake has been replaced with Justin Bieber lunch boxes, in schools that still allow students to bring in a packed lunch. The USDA is spending millions of dollars on video cameras to monitor our childrens lunchtime choices, because clearly integrating whole-foods based nutrition education and phys ed into the curriculum would cost too much. And now there are reports that the USDA plans on sending 7 million pounds of pink-slime beef filler that has been treated with ammonia to our children because fast food restaurants no longer use it after documentaries like Food, Inc. exposed that the ingredient listed as, “processing agent” is really ammonia. Don’t worry, you don’t have to have school-aged children to get this delicacy, it is estimated that 70% of ground beef in the US contains “pink slime” as a filler meat.

What exactly is pink slime? It’s Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT) or Finely Textured Lean Beef (FTLB) and is made by collecting the scraps of meat, mostly connective tissue, that is thrown on the floor in slaughterhouses, mechanically separated (the meat from fat) and sprayed with ammonia (yes, the ammonia found in household cleaners) and added to beef. And by the way, it was used as dog food before the FDA approved this process for human consumption.

Is ammonia safe? It is found naturally in many of our foods and even our own body produces ammonia when the bacteria in our guts break down protein. Our bodies can handle the low-levels naturally occurring in whole foods and our body as our liver converts the small levels we produce into urea and flushes it out in urine. But what happens when we overload our system with higher concentrations of ammonia? While the FDA has approved it, I can find no actual studies on the effects of adding this known carcinogen to our food system. Opium is also found in nature so is it okay to take in high quantities?

Why is ammonia used? Ammonia raises the pH level of the meat to kill deadly strains of E. coli, salmonella and other deadly food-borne pathogens. Yet, the New York Times reported in 2009 that:

Government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

So, what can you do if you don’t want to give up beef?

  1.  Write your state legislators. A republic of the people, by the people and for the people only works when the people are involved. Demand that studies on both the safety and efficiency of ammonia treated beef is conducted.
  2. Buy local. Pink Slime is produced by Beef Products, Inc. and shipped across the country to grocery stores nationwide. Find a local butcher shop that processes it’s ground beef from local sources instead. This will also help boost your local economy and build your community. If you can’t find a local butcher than ask the meat manager at your grocery store where they get their beef.
  3. Buy grass fed beef. Grain is not the natural food source for cattle and changes the acidic levels in the cow’s stomach to promote the growth of E. coli according to Cornell University researchers. Grass fed beef is much more expensive, but something to consider. And finally, don’t forget the 7 million pounds of slime coming to a school near you.
  4. Pack your child’s lunch so you know what they are eating without the need of expensive camera equipment. After all, I still remember the joy of opening up my Lady Lovely Locks lunch pail to a meal packed with love and the occasional note, “Have a good day, I love you.”

Lisbeth Prifogle is a freelance writer, Marine officer, and globetrotter currently in San Diego, CA. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles and a BA from DePauw University. Lisbeth spent six months in Iraq and is working on a memoir about her experiences. She keeps a blog titled The Next Bold Move and her work can be found in the 11th issue of Poem Memoir Story, The Splinter Generation, and In the Know Travel. Lisbeth has had problems balancing hormones since she was a teenager and is constantly researching and exploring natural remedies including diet, exercise, and alternative medicines.


  1. There are so many things wrong with the way schools feed our kids and the way we let our kids eat (McDonald’s, Taco Bell used pink slime until recently) that it’s difficult to keep count.
    Questions I ask myself: why do I continue to eat beef to begin with? If you think about how beef gets to our table, it’s not much more pleasant than pink slime process. If we need ammonia to kill the potential e-coli, then shouldn’t we think twice about using those parts of the carcass? What if we gave our kids only (real) healthy choices for school lunches. They’d either eat it, or pack a lunch, or…?

    • It’s as if basic ethics left the culture. Who thought it was a good idea to sell this crap to kids?

      Good news though, the outcry against pink slime forced the schools to ban it too. Social media can be used for good!

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