In the midst of a new ad campaign depicting high-quality ingredients and portraying McDonald’s suppliers as beef and produce connoisseurs, the fast food giant has quietly announced that they will cease to use spare beef trimmings treated with ammonium hydroxide. Also known as “pink slime.”
The meat has been used as an additive in their patties and comes from the fatty parts of the cow most likely to harbor pathogens like salmonella and E.coli. In order to make the meat available for human consumption it must be rinsed in a small amount of ammonia that mixes with the moisture in the meat to form ammonium hydroxide. The compound makes the trimmings safe to eat.
“Pink slime” was approved by the Department of Agriculture in 2007 in an attempt to protect American meat from an outbreak of E.coli in Europe. At the time it was also exempt from mandated increased testing for most ground beef based off the reasoning that the ammonia compound would kill any dangerous bacteria. However, the meat did not receive full support from everyone at the U.S.D.A.
Microbiologist Geral Zirnstein said in The Daily Mail, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.” Reiterating the same level of disgust “pink slime” was most recently brought into the spotlight by British chef Jamie Oliver. On an episode of his TV show, Food Revolution, the chef explained to families that the beef would normally go into dog food, but is rinsed in a compound normally found in household cleaners until it is suitable for humans. Chef Oliver wasn’t the first to put the meat on blast. The New York Times published an investigation on the product in 2009 in an article called “Safety of Beef Processing Method is Questioned” and the trimmings were a part of the documentary criticizing the food industry, Food Inc, in 2010.
As a result of the probing done by The New York Times and other sources there are reasons to believe that the product is less safe than meat of a higher grade that does not undergo the ammonium hydroxide treatment. It has also been determined that using the scraps of meat that create “pink slime” only save about three cents per pound of ground beef.
In light of these findings and public disgust it is not surprising that McDonald’s has elected to remove it from the menu. The company claims that the decision to drop the product did not stem from Jamie Oliver’s show. Reportedly they have stated that they stopped using the product months ago and discussed dropping it as far back as a year ago.
Todd Bacon, the Senior Director of Quality Systems for McDonald’s USA, said in an email that “the decision to discontinue its use was not related to any particular event, but rather a result of our efforts to align our standards for beef around the world.” Regardless of the reasoning McDonald’s regulars should be rejoicing in the fact that they are no longer consuming the highly unappetizing “pink slime” additive.