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Currently in the United States ground beef can be sold under the label "100% ground beef" as per the the USDA Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book (August 2005); however, there have been a number of recent claims that lean finely textured beef (LFTB) or "pink slime", not to be confused with mechanically separated meat which is not considered safe to eat due to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy concerns, may not be safe to eat and proper studies have not been conducted. Is there actually any validity to this claim or has the issue been over-hyped by the media?

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    Note that this question is indirectly related to a similar one on ammonia content in beef. – rjzii Apr 2 '12 at 15:29
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    Given that people have been eating the stuff since about 2001 without any obvious negative results, there's an upper limit to how bad it can possibly be. – Tacroy Apr 2 '12 at 16:25
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    @Tacroy - True, but depending upon what we are talking about, ten years really isn't that long for cumulative negative effects to arise. – rjzii Apr 2 '12 at 17:45
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    I think the majority of the hubbub is not whether it's safe to eat (clearly it's fairly "safe," given how much has been consumed without apparent ill effect), but rather that most consumers would think it's really disgusting, and wouldn't eat it if industry wasn't more or less sneaking it into foods that we expect to be mostly muscle (and not need treatment with ammonia). – Larry Gritz Apr 5 '12 at 18:45
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    MRM is 'sometimes called "white slime" as an analog to pink slime and to meat extracted by advanced meat recovery systems, both of which are different processes' - Wikipedia – Oddthinking Aug 9 '12 at 7:50
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Let's break down the core issues raised in the cited New York Times article (which remains my main reference for this answer).

  1. A product from a company calledBeef Products involves treating "fatty trimmings" with a centrifuge (to remove the fat) and with ammonia (to kill the micro-organisms).

  2. The USDA believed that the treatment was so effective at killing micro-organisms, it could save money by not including it in routine checks, and excluded it from recalls. This proved to be wrong, so they reversed that decision. No-one reported getting sick in the interval (or since).

  3. Micro-organisms, such as salmonella, have been detected in the product, and in hamburger meat. The manufacturer claims only 0.06% of samples contained E. coli. They also claim that their 3.6% salmonella tests figures (compared to 0.9% figures for other suppliers) are due to more stringent testing.

  4. If they use too much ammonia, it smells bad. They claim that lowered the levels are still effective at killing micro-organisms. That claim is under review.

  5. The USDA agrees that the ammonia itself, while smelling bad, is not dangerous.

  6. Some people find the process disgusting. Some people are put off by its smell before being mixed with other meat. Some people perceive it as inferior to other butchery processes. Some children prefer its taste. It is cheaper than other processes. None of this is relevant to the question.

What is important to this question is that none of these points make any claims about the long-term danger of the meat. The only real health concern raised is in the short-term, viz. is the meat contaminated with Salmonella or E. coli, both of which can cause severe food-poisoning, especially in children?

And it is clear from the article that the answer (from both officials, schools and the manufacturer) is yes, bacterial contaminations do, very occasionally, occur in the raw product. Beef Products Inc deny that it is more common than from other suppliers.

Now, whether you consider the risk of infection too high for your children is a personal choice. (Remembering it happens in other meat too, and can be ameliorated by proper food preparation, including cooking the food adequately.)

I haven't tried to challenge the reporting from the article, because I believe the article does not directly make the claims that the title suggests, so there are no substantial claims that have been called into doubt by the question.

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