Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Pink Slime Problem

In the conclusion of my last blog post I mentioned pink slime.  Since then The San Francisco ChronicleThe New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous other media outlets have all run stories on ground beef and, to use the technical term, lean beef trimmings. Here is the situation in a nutshell: 
  • A lot of ground beef contains this stuff known colloquially as “pink slime.”
  • Our governmental regulatory agencies say it’s safe to eat even though it may be gross.
  • Unless you’re a vegetarian, you’ve probably eaten it and you were probably not aware of it because it is in most ground beef sold in the U.S. and products containing it do not disclose its presence on their labeling.
  • It’s hard to determine whether or not the products we buy contain it.
Watching all this media attention, I asked myself two questions:
1.       Am I getting this stuff in the ground beef I buy?
2.       If so, how can I avoid it?
Some of the answers were simple:
1.       If I buy my meat from farmers who participate in Upstate Locally Grown, it’s easy: no pink slime—it’s absolutely out of the question. I’ve met the farmers, I’ve seen the animals, and I’m convinced that this is the best product I can get in terms of quality and ethics.
2.       If I buy meat from certain national grocery chains including Publix and Whole Foods Market, it’s reasonable to believe I will not be buying pink slime because they have publicly announced that they will not stock ground beef containing it.
Other answers were harder to find or required a different approach to ground beef:
1.       According to beef experts and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, any ground beef that is labeled in terms of an actual cut of meat, like “ground chuck” or “ground round” must contain only the meat from that cut.  So, if the store is marketing ground beef by its fat percentage, such as 20% lean, there is no guarantee about how that fat percentage was accomplished.  But, if the product is marketed as “ground chuck,” it really should be (just) ground chuck—no pink slime.
2.       While I doubt few people have done this, it is possible to grind your own meat, even without a fancy meat grinder.  Obviously, this is the most foolproof way to determine what has gone into your hamburger, and it is actually a pretty cool process.  All you need is a food processor (and I have done this with a basic Black & Decker model) and some sort of meat—I have used chuck roasts and eye-of-round roasts.  Just cut the roast into cubes, place the cubes in the processor, and pulse until you have the consistency you want. 

Processing meat like this produces a ground beef that looks different from the typical grocery-store product.  Since it has been “ground” in a food processor it often looks more like it has been “minced,” more like old-fashioned (and snooty-sounding) mincemeat than a typical (and boring) “ground beef.”  Grinding meat like this also makes it possible to season the meat while it’s being processed, and there is nothing better than a grilled burger that has been broken down from a whole roast with steak seasoning processed all through it—not just sprinkled on top.  When I have ground my own beef and grilled burgers like this, the result seems juicier, and somewhat meatier than normal, possibly because I grind the beef to a coarser consistency than the typical grocery-store grind, possibly because the whole process just somehow seems more pure and natural.  Instead of squeezing mush into an arbitrary shape and grilling it, I have taken a distinct piece of meat, rendered it supple and malleable, and grilled it.

In a perfect world, we could walk into any grocery store and buy products that clearly disclosed where they were grown or made, how they were made, and exactly what they contained.  But, until I live in that world, I’ll continue to look for the best products I can find and be thankful that I do have access to food, through Upstate Locally Grown and other local purveyors, that I trust and respect.


  1. My mother in law will buy a roast and have them grind it at the store. I never knew that butchers can actually do this at most grocery stores!

  2. In Greenwood, they will do this at Corley's Market--the butchers there are awesome!