Some answers about lean finely textured beef, or what critics call "pink slime."
Q: What is it?
A: The ground beef additive is made from leftover fatty cuts of meat trimmings unfit for use in other products. The pieces of meat, fat and connective tissue are heated in a centrifuge and spun until separated. The remaining meat is then combined and ground into a fine mixture before it's frozen and treated with ammonium gas to kill off potential contaminants such as E. coli and salmonella. Historically the product has been combined to make higher-fat ground beef more lean before it is sold in grocery stores or restaurants or served in school lunch programs.
Q: Is it safe?
A: According to food scientists and food safety advocates, it is. The product is treated with a puff of ammonium gas to kill bacteria, similar to what's done with other products, including processed cheeses, onions, coffee creamers, potato chips, mayonnaise and salami, and all are considered safe to eat.
Q: So what's the big deal?
A: Consumer petitions and advocacy groups have voiced three main concerns:
>> The USDA considers it beef and doesn't require it to be listed as an ingredient on packages of ground beef, and people think it's been slipped to them or schoolchildren on the sly and question why. Some beef industry advocates have suggested labels or signage could help with this.
>> Some consumers believe they have been paying too much for scraps or lower-quality ground beef.
>> Debate about the product has been an unappetizing reminder of how meat gets to store shelves, underscoring what one ag economist called a disconnect between the practice of making food in factory settings and consumers' understanding of that.