McDonald's has announced the fast food chain will no longer be using ammonia treated beef in its hamburgers.
A controversial ingredient, the meat in question is inferior trimmings prone to contamination and treated with ammonium hydroxide.
Referred to as 'pink slime', as recently asserted by celebrity chef and food activist Jamie Oliver, this type of meat is comprised of fatty beef trimmings soaked in the ammonia solution to kill off bacteria, reported CBS News.
Historically the meat product had been considered usable for pet food, and McDonald's had been using it in its food.
"We're taking a product that would be sold in its cheaper form for dogs," Oliver had said on his TV show, Food Revolution, where he demonstrated the practice to an audience. "After this process, we can give it to humans."
This procedure is banned for human consumption in the U.K., but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture had given it the go-ahead as an acceptable means to treat meat in preparation for 'safe' consumer eating.
In the U.K. this meat is used for dog and chicken food, reported ABC News.
And McDonald's was one of the fast food chains using it. The company says it no longer uses this meat, however admits it had been including the normally discarded trimmings of meat until a change last summer.
“At McDonald’s, the quality and safety of the food we serve our customers is a top priority. At the beginning of 2011, we made a decision to discontinue the use of ammonia-treated beef in our hamburgers," Todd Bacon, PhD, Senior Director of Quality Systems, Supply Chain Management at McDonald's said in a media statement. "This product has been out of our supply chain since August of last year. This decision was a result of our efforts to align our global standards for how we source beef around the world. We are always reviewing and evolving our standards to ensure we continue to serve safe, high quality food to our customers.”
Chemicals in flasks (including Ammonium hydroxide and Nitric acid) lit in different colours
ABC reported Beef Products Incorporated (BPI), the South Dakota-based company that supplied McDonald's with this meat, said that Oliver's show had nothing to do with the corporate decision, saying it was related to BPI’s inability to supply McDonald’s on a global scale.
This issue had already been questioned. In 2009, the New York Times reported on the ammonium hydroxide process, created to kill off contaminants such as E.Coli and salmonella. BPI had reportedly perfected the technique to turn "fatty slaughterhouse trimmings into usable lean beef." (NYT)
McDonald's is not the only chain to use the leftover pieces beef that, prior to the ammonia solution. The 2009 NYT report indicated other fast food chains and federal school lunch programs were using it as well, as it is a cheaper meat additive to ground beef.
The ammonia is not even required to be listed as an ingredient. The NYT reported government agencies OK'd the ingredient list to call it a “processing agent” after a request by the meat company.
Gerald Zirnstein, a USDA microbiologist in 2002, called the processed beef "pink slime" in an email message to colleagues and said, “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.”
Based on the recent corporate statement, McDonald's hamburgers no longer include the 'pink slime' mixture in its hamburger meat. Perhaps, because some governments will not allow the meat trimmings to be included, it might be more efficient for the fast food giant to standardize its burgers everywhere? Whatever the reason it appears consumers will no longer be ingesting the ammonium hydroxide treated meat, at least in McDonald's products.
However, the same cannot be said for school cafeterias, as The Daily reported 7 million pounds of the 'pink slime' has been purchased by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for the national school lunch program.
Unfortunately for parents, because of the labeling requirements, there is no surefire way to tell whether or not the food their children is eating contains the scrap meat in burgers or tacos.