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The secret ingredient in that burger? Ammonia, yum.

Eight years ago, federal officials were struggling to remove potentially deadly E. coli from hamburgers when an entrepreneurial company from South Dakota came up with a novel idea: injecting beef with ammonia.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/...

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  1. Ammonia (in "pink slime" as one gov official calls it) does not need to appear on any labeling, because it is used to "process," and is not an ingredient per se. I thought I knew a lot about the beef packing industry, but this one caught me by surprise. And to think that school children (as well as anyone who ever eats at fast food joints) are fed this because schools save $.03 per pound on ground beef. Ammonia is a neuro-toxin, and our young children with developing brains are consuming this with the blessings of schools and the government. Totally unbelievable!

    1. Here's another link about the prospects for controlling contamination of the food supply:
      http://www.sphere.com/nation/article/...
      I wonder if the newly-established food safety working group will be effective. As the Times piece notes, at least SOME government microbiologists opposed the ammonia-treatment process, and the school lunch division wasn't communicating with the heads of the department, which is flat out inexcusable. Time and again, individuals who know something is wrong are either afraid of being fired if they blow the whistle, or are not listened to if they do speak up. Rather than working groups, maybe we need a government-wide ombudsman service which will take government employees' concerns seriously and protect them from reprisals.

      1. Lovely.

        We need a serious overhaul of our food industry. Meanwhile, those who eat industrially-ground beef deserve what they get.

        16 Replies
        1. re: alanbarnes

          One more reason to eat more vegetables this year.

          According to Marion Nestle: "Food safety regulation: Congress is sitting on a bill to give the Food and Drug Administration some real authority for food safety. The bill does not do what is most needed - establish a single food-safety agency - but is a reasonable step in the right direction. Let's hope Congress gets to it soon."
          http://www.foodpolitics.com/feed/

          1. re: Gio

            I am happy to report that I buy my food from the food co-op or farmers markets...organic if at all possible. I won't buy meat that is industrially "grown" or ground. Ugh.

            1. re: Gio

              Actually, vegatables are more dangerous.. subject to contamination, and since they are not as often cooked, more likely to tranmit large doses of bacteria.. remember the jalapeno/tomato and spinach scares of the past few years.

              A food safety agency.. be careful what you wish for.. or at least think about it. Here's what WILL happen if we created a Food Safety Bureau- it, in the end, will impose such an onerous regulatory burden that it will hurt small, local farmers, who won't be able to comply with the absolutionist testing policies it will demand. Care to see food police at your local farmers market demanding testing records from your local herb grower?

              Look at how lead paint regulations have effectively killed the hand-made U.S. toy industry. Woodworkers buying paint in the U.S., where it HAS to be lead free, are still required to certify each design/SKU as being lead free - by placing them through expensive testing - but since they are small producers, they have tons of designs.. and the government does nothing as they go out of business.

              1. re: grant.cook

                "Actually, vegatables are more dangerous.. "
                Yeah, who would have thunk that the healthiest part of a BLT would be the bacon?

                1. re: Rmis32

                  I find it morbidly funny that we have more illness here in the U.S. from cooked beef than Italy has from meat hung out in an open air basement to cure for months..

            2. re: alanbarnes

              Or what they can afford.

              Let them eat cake.

              1. re: shanagain

                "Let them eat cake?" Are you accusing me of elitism? I'll have you know that while I aspire to eat more sustainably-raised meat, most of my hamburgers are ground from 7-bone chuck roasts I buy on sale for $1.49 per pound. Cheaper than the 5-pound chub of ammonia-treated fecesburger that goes for $9.98 at Super Wal-Mart.

                Just because people don't have a lot of money doesn't mean they aren't entitled to wholesome food. If low price is the only consideration, we should feed the poor milk that's been "supplemented" with melamine if it drops the price by ten cents a gallon.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Well, you did say they deserved what they get, no?

                  I mean, for just a second, think about the way you said it - and consider that most people in this country "assume" they are eating food which is safe.

                  Just because people don't have a lot of money doesn't mean they aren't entitled to wholesome food = Good.
                  Deserving of eating ammonia if they aren't educated/informed enough to know better = Bad.

                  Just my humble, and all that. Glad to give you a moment to clarify.

                  1. re: shanagain

                    You're right. My comment was ill-considered and insensitive. People should be able to assume that what they're eating is safe. It's a sad state of affairs that this isn't the case. Hence the noted need for an overhaul.

                    Regardless, I was condescending. Not to those of limited means, but to the uninformed, regardless of their socioeconomic status. I tend to forget that not everybody is as interested in food as those of us who spend too much time here on Chowhound.

                    So let me modify my comment. Anybody who **knows** what goes into industrially-ground beef and chooses to eat it anyway deserves what they get.

                    But it's a crime that agribusiness is allowed to sell adulterated products without disclosing their contents to consumers who don't know about the nasty s**t (literally) in their food. Have the FDA and the USDA really been so suborned by the industry that we're back to the days of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"? Scary.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Now we're on the same page, completely.

                      A society is judged by how it treats the least among them, IMstolenO. And as of thirty minutes ago, that counted me - damned if I knew this was an acceptable practice.

                      Now, time to kick myself for selling that ancient crank meat grinder I used to have stuck in a cabinet somewhere.

                      1. re: shanagain

                        Nothing wrong with the old methods, but new technology has its benefits, too. I use the grinder attachment for a KitchenAid stand mixer, but there are plenty of stand-alone electric grinders at all kinds of price points. With easy assembly and dishwasher-safe parts, it's a snap to to make the best burgers and sausages you've ever eaten.

                      2. re: alanbarnes

                        "Have the FDA and the USDA really been so suborned by the industry that we're back to the days of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"?'

                        As I imagine you're aware, Alan, part of the problem with giving the USDA the power of regulation is that this puts it in conflict with itself, because the other explicit mission of the USDA is the promotion of US agricultural industries. How can you not be in the sway of the industry if your job is to promote the industry? This is what has led to them allowing the slaughterhouses and meat packers to essentially police themselves (or not, as the case truly is) - "playing along" with the concerns of industry over those of consumer safety because promotion of industry is the USDA's mandate, And it is the chief reason that a separate department devoted wholly to food safety, outside the aegis of the USDA is necessary.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          A department dedicated wholly to food safety will lead to the extinction of small, low-volume farmers.. the will have to dedicate a higher % of their revenue to testing/paperwork/regulatory burdens, leading to even great disadvantages versus large agribusiness, which lives for paperwork.

                          Look at a similar all-compassing authority - You can argue the FDA serves a needed role, in insuring drugs are validated.. but, in the way the FDA regulates, boutique drug manufacturer couldn't exist today - even with enormous returns on investment, small drug producers with an idea are forced to partner with larger firms for reasons of validation.. imagine the same construct but for food - it wouldn't work..

                          This is a classic example of people proposing a large complex solution to a simple problem... if Ford can track a quality problem back to a single batch at a single supplier, and Nestle can track it back to water from a particular spring bottled during a particular shift, then meat producers and large rendering facilities should be required to back able to track it back to a particular lot of meat for recallability purposes... lay those requirements in, and see what happens..

                          1. re: grant.cook

                            There can be streamlined solutions created within the context of a safety agency, but regardless, safety and compliance need to be divorced from the USDA, which has a conflict of interest built in to its dual mission. And with regard to meat processing, it is not only a question of tracing supplies in order to effect a recall*, but also of safe practices that prevent contamination in the first place, something that all evidence suggests the large-scale industry has little interest in.

                            *At present, food-safety recalls are strictly voluntary, and are unenforcible by the agencies charged with ensuring safe food. Another thing that needs to change through legislation.

                    2. re: alanbarnes

                      alan, i'm doing what you're doing with the beef -- buying the whole roast and getting it ground. it tastes fresher, has less fat (by far) AND is a MUCH better price that buying ground beef! l will be buying london broil this week at harris teeter at a "buy one get one free" price to get it ground -- freezing part for next week. i'll never buy "ground beef" again.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        If you don't own a grinder, you can also often ask the butcher at the store (if you are going to a store with a decent meat department) to grind it for you.. it adds a bit more risk of contamination, as you don't know what else went through the grinder that day, but it's better than ground beef from higher-volume commercial grinding plants AND you know exactly what cut you are getting.. you want chuck, you get chuck..

                2. I learned about this fact in the excellent DVD-Food Inc.

                  1. This is not new news. That's one of the BIG stories in the movie Food, Inc. According to the movie, the augmented beef was first only sold to the fast food chains. That progressed to all the pre-made frozen patties sold in big box stores and supermarkets.

                    Now, all the ground meat sold in traditional supermarkets contain the ammoniated pellets.

                    If you don't see the meat ground, or grind it yourself, you cannot be sure you are not getting that stuff. ;(

                    I'm guessing KitchenAid is going to sell out of grinder attachments this weekend!

                    1. One of many reasons we splurged on an expensive meat grinder a few months ago. Never looking back. Now we will just have to worry about convincing our child to stay away from these places when he gets old enough, and to try to make him eat a lunch I will pack.

                      1. In a letter to the editor, regarding the article linked above -
                        To the Editor:

                        Let me see if I have this straight: We are now feeding our children stuff that used to be reserved for dog food, by treating it with ammonia, in order to save three cents a pound? Hey, why not just feed the little tykes dog food? I’m sure it would save even more money.

                        By the way, since we are using the former scraps (described as “pink slime” by one microbiologist) for people now, what are we feeding the dogs?

                        Mary Ellen Croteau
                        Chicago, Dec. 31, 2009