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Where's the slime?

March 15, 2012|By TIM ROWLAND |
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

This one’s for all you people who have laughed at me over the years for raising my own beef cattle, because I didn’t trust the meat coming out of America’s factory farms.

Well, maybe, not laughed outright, but looked at me funny, like your were wondering where I kept my tinfoil hat.

“You’re afraid of supermarket beef? Like what do you think’s going to happen, hamburger is going to turn out to be made from some kind of PINK SLIME that they’re treating with AMMONIA to quell the STENCH? Har, har har.”

Yeah, well.

To be honest, I never put that much thought into it. I’ve just always thought that cows were cool. My other problem was that, while other children were watching zombie movies 40 years ago and becoming insanely scared of graveyards, I was reading “The Jungle” and becoming insanely scared of kielbasa.

As it turns out, most of today’s hamburger is being made through a process that Upton Sinclair never would have dreamed of in 1906.

According to news accounts, so-called pink slime “is made by grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food and rendering. Trimmings are then treated with ammonia hydroxide as part of a process that kills pathogens such as salmonella and E. Coli. The resulting product is then blended with ground beef.”

Maybe it’s me, but any time I see the words “connective tissue” in the same sentence with “food,” I get nervous.

But the real unsettling thing is that industry departed from it’s normal spin cycle that begins with denial and ends with indictments. You might expect the first news releases to deny that there is any such thing as pink slime.

But apparently the case against them was so ironclad they didn’t even bother. Instead, the PR response jumped straight to No. 3 on the chart, the “so what” defense. Also known as the “Ollie North defense,” this response acknowledges the atrocity up front, but insists that it’s normal.

“Well, of course, we hose down floor sweepings with disinfectant and feed it to schoolchildren — so what’s your point?”

That’s not a good sign. It’s so ominous, in fact, that I did what any other conscientious American would do: I immediately tried to set up a Pink Slime Facebook page in hopes I could in some way profit from it.

Unfortunately, someone had already gained first-mover status, back in April 2011. And the pink slime story goes back even further than that. It was approved for the marketplace in 2007, which is excellent news because it means we can blame George Bush.

According to the New York Times, writing back in 2009, E coli and/or salmonella had at that time been found in pink-slime meat destined for school lunches more than 50 times.

The implications were clear: The producer needed to find a heavier grade of ammonia. Except that can be a problem, too.

According to the Times: “Pathogens died when enough ammonia was used to raise the alkalinity of the beef to a high level ... (b)ut early on, school lunch officials and other customers complained about the taste and smell of the beef.”

I hate when that happens. No one wants to bite into a double cheeseburger and be reminded of Mr. Clean.
If noting else, it makes home-raised beef taste even better.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at

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