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On Monday, Beef Products, Inc., the maker of the derisively named "pink slime" beef ingredient, suspended production of the product at three of its four plants in the wake of a negative social media uproar over the process used to manufacture the product. The affected plants are in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas; and Waterloo, Iowa. About 200 employees at each plant will receive full salary and benefits during what is expected to be a 60 day suspension of operations. The plant located at the company's headquarters in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, will continue operations as usual.

The uproar over the product has been driven by worries that the beef filler ingredient is treated with ammonia hydroxide to kill such bacteria as E. coli and salmonella. The end product is used in processed meat products such as sausages and hamburgers. A major focus of the social media dust up was an online petition aimed at removing pink slime from schools. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a release indicating that school districts can stop using the product. Some retail chains have also pulled products that contain the ingredient from shelves.

The manufacturer and federal regulators have long maintained that the ingredient, known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," meets food safety standards. Beef Products, Inc. is in the process of developing a strategy to promote that claim and to rebuild business. Part of that strategy is to highlight the company's contention that the product is "all beef." The production process involves collecting fatty bits of beef left over from other cuts which are heated and spun to remove most of the excess fat. The remaining product is pressed into blocks and treated with ammonia hydroxide. The result, according to the company, is a product that is up to 97 percent lean beef. That may be true, but all consumers need to make an informed choice about whether they want to include such a product in their diet and that of their families.

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