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Stores ditch 'pink slime'

Published March 24. 2012 09:01AM

Warm weather means more juicy, charcoal grilled hamburgers, and most local folks want theirs with cheese, onions, tomatoes and ketchup, not "pink slime."

News reports surfaced some weeks ago revealing that some fast food restaurants have stopped using the material, which is finely ground connective tissue and beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to prevent E. coli and salmonella contamination, a material few customers even knew existed.

The material, called Lean Finely Textured Beef by the meat industry, was dubbed "pink slime" by former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Gerald Zirnstein. The material was previously used in the production of cooking oil and animal feed.

Despite its yucky nickname, pink slime is deemed safe by the federal government, and is touted as a way to stretch meat budgets and reduce fat content. The material has been routinely added to ground beef sold by supermarkets and wholesale suppliers.

However, negative public reaction to the use of pink slime has prompted some local supermarkets have announced they will stop selling ground beef that includes the material. They include Giant, based in Cumberland County, and Redners, based in Berks County.

Wegman's has also announced that it will "transition" away from it.

"We've made a decision to stop selling ground beef that contains Lean Finely Textured Beef. Having grown up in the meat business, we have always been proud of our ground beef and eat it ourselves. Because of the sensationalism of this issue it has become a concern for our customers. Every decision we make is with our customers in mind. Our commitment remains the same. We will continue to source the best quality ground beef, now without lean finely textured beef," Wegman's CEO Danny Wegman said in a press release Friday.

Giant Food Stores made its announcement Thursday.

The grocery chain will "no longer purchase fresh ground beef containing Finely Textured Beef. While the USDA, the (U.S.) Department of Agriculture, has indicated this product is safe for consumption and complies with all applicable standards for lean beef, many of our customers have voiced concern regarding Finely Textured Beef. We value the trusted relationship we have with our customers and their feedback on this issue. GIANT will continue to communicate openly with customers and stands by the quality, safety and compliance of all products we sell," the company said in its news release.

The recent news that the U.S. Department of Agriculture bought some seven million pounds of the product to use in school lunches prompted Panther Valley School Director David Hiles on March 8 spoke out against it. The school district gets its meals from The Nutrition Group, whose representative said the company doesn't make its own hamburgers but that she would find out if the hamburger used includes the material.

On March 15, the USDA issued a press release saying that next year, schools will be given the choice of accepting food products that include the material.

"USDA only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable including all products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef. However, due to customer demand, the department will be adjusting procurement specifications for the next school year so schools can have additional options in procuring ground beef products. USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef.

"USDA continues to affirm the safety of Lean Finely Textured Beef product for all consumers and urges customers to consult science based information on the safety and quality of this product. Lean Finely Textured Beef is a meat product derived from a process which separates fatty pieces from beef trimmings to reduce the overall fat content," the USDA said.

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