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Pink Slime in Ground Beef: Unappetizing or Unsafe?

The mislabeling of lean beef trimmings as pink slime makes consumers wary of ground beef


Eating a hamburger went from delicious to disgusting once pink slime was used to describe the "boneless lean beef trimmings" in it. Now everyone from your local school cafeteria to McDonald's has pledged to remove any ground beef containing these lean beef trimmings from their menus.

The hysteria created by the unappetizing term used to describe something found in an half of all ground beef on the market lead to its removal, not evidence of harm. It drew attention to something no one even knew was in there before. Why? Because it didn't have to be labeled as an ingredient since it is, in fact, just ground beef.

That may not make you feel better, but once you consider the facts you'll see that the use of the term pink slime has probably made more people queasy than the product ever could.

Quick Q&A on What's in my Ground Beef?

Q: Why are boneless lean beef trimmings added to ground beef?

A: When a beef carcass is cut into steaks and roasts there are many trimmings leftover with usable meat on them. By removing most of the fat from these trimmings they can be added to ground beef as lean beef.

Q: Why are the boneless lean beef trimmings pink?

A: They are not pink, but a rosy-red color just like ground beef with 94 percent beef and 6 percent fat content.

Q: How are the trimmings processed before being added to the ground beef?

A: First the trimmings are put in a centrifuge to separate the fat from the lean. Then the meat is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas, which raises the pH and kills any harmful microbes. It is a temporary exposure and causes no physical change in the beef. The ammonium hydroxide is the same one used as an antimicrobial food additive in cheeses, baked goods, chocolates, and many other candies. It is not the same as what is found in household cleansers and fertilizers.

Q: Are boneless lean beef trimmings as nutritious as regular ground beef?

A: Yes, the beef trimmings provide the same high quality protein and essential nutrients that any other cut of beef supplies. When added to ground beef it provides higher ratios of lean-to-fat in the final blend.

Q: Is ground beef containing boneless lean beef trimmings, or pink slime, safe?

A: Yes, according to Beef Products, Inc., the manufacturer of boneless lean beef trimmings, there has never been a foodborne illness associated with their beef in over 30 years.