The good news? McDonald's admits that it has stopped using a substance colloquially known as “pink slime” in its burgers. The bad news? McDonald's admits that it has stopped using a substance colloquially known as “pink slime” in its burgers. This after how many billions have been sold?
“Pink slime” is a term coined by people who actually care about what they eat. It refers to beef trimmings and other leftovers from the butchering process that would normally be unfit for human consumption and relegated to dog food. But a number of big beef processing companies have discovered that dousing said scrap with ammonium hydroxide will kill off bacterial baddies like e-coli and salmonella, therby rendering the renderings “safe” for use in people food. Ah, the wonders of chemistry!
It's a cheap and easy process; you take the trimmings and run them through a centrifuge to separate the fats and solids. Then you force the solids through a little tube, where they are “gassed” with an ammonia compound. This changes the product's pH and ostensibly kills the bugs – at least the ones that haven't developed an immunity to the process. The resultant pink, slimy substance is then sold to the processors who produce cheap beef for cheap burgers. If it makes you feel any better, “pink slime” doesn't usually make up any more than twenty-five percent of the processed meat you're eating.
I saw Jamie Oliver discuss and demonstrate “pink slime” on one of his Food Revolution shows last year. I was disgusted. Apparently a lot of other people were, too, because the two biggest burger joints – McDonald's and Burger King – as well as Taco Bell and others have since announced the elimination of the substance in their product lines. Never mind that it was in there in the first place.
Oh, the USDA says it's “safe.” Of course, that's not really much of an endorsement anymore, now is it? Anybody with sufficient clout and a big enough bank account can get the USDA to approve just about anything. That's why the manufacturers of “pink slime” aren't too worried by the big burger chains' defection – they've got lots of other customers. Think about that the next time you visit your supermarket's meat department and buy one of those big rolls of prepackaged “ground beef” all nicely wrapped up in opaque plastic and sold at such “bargain” prices.
As a kid, I remember wondering why my grandmother cranked her arm off with that cast-iron antique she clamped onto the edge of the kitchen counter whenever she wanted to make hamburgers, meat loaf, meatballs, or anything with ground meat in it. I mean, Grandma, get real! Join the 20th century! They sell that stuff at the grocery store already ground up. Fifty years later, I say “thanks for the inspiration, Grandma” as I crank up the grinder attachment on my KitchenAid. When ground meat hits the plate at my place, I know what's in it – and “pink slime” is not a component. On top of that, my guests always marvel at the great flavor and texture. Isn't it amazing how smart our old-fashioned, low-tech, out-of-touch grannies were?
I doubt that back in 1955 Ray Kroc made his original burgers out of meat containing twenty-five percent “pink slime.” In a day and age where so many established institutions have chosen to sacrifice the standards of quality set forth by their founders in favor of cheap production and fast profits – KFC and Walmart, are you listening? – maybe the recent move by McDonald's is a teeny, tiny baby step in the right direction. We can only hope.
In the meantime, if you want a really good burger, find a butcher you can trust or buy your own meat and grind it at home. It's not fast, it's not convenient, and it's not cheap. But you don't have to worry about serving your family a burger that's twenty-five percent dog food, either.