When we eat food, we generally like to know what we’re eating. If we’re uncertain about a product, we then turn our focus to the product’s label, expecting it to find cold, hard product truth. If a food item is labeled ‘chicken’, we believe it is 100% chicken; why wouldn’t we? If a product is labeled ‘green beans’ we tend to trust that it’s 100% delicious vegetable. In the case of ground beef, however, we might not be able to remain quite so confident! Do you remember “pink slime”? I’m not talking about the colorful sticky stuff kids have been playing with for the last few years. I’m talking ammonia-treated ground beef. This stuff of nightmares has made a vengeful return! If you’re hoping to avoid purchasing this nasty ground beef imposter, try following a few simple techniques. (1, 2)
What is “Pink Slime”?
In order to avoid something, first, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for! “Pink slime” is a uniquely treated form of ground beef that the United States Department of Agriculture recently reclassified from “pink slime” or “lean finely textured beef” to simply “ground beef.” This newly created “ground beef” is treated with ammonia to keep bacteria from infesting the product. While a lack of bacteria might initially sound desirable, the process of creating pink slime is somewhat questionable. (1, 2)
By taking small cuttings from cattle carcasses and slicing them into steaks, manufacturers can send them off to become ground beef products. Since ground beef can contain no more than 30% fat, however, it must be processed to ‘meat’ all of the requirements. The processing system for pink slime is fairly simple: the beef muscle tissue is heavily treated with ammonia resulting in a “lean finely textured beef” that is far from natural. Thanks to USDA reclassifications, however, this meat doesn’t need a special label distinguishing it from ground beef that has not undergone this process. Manufacturers will be allowed to call this product “ground beef” without any other description or caveat. This means the next time you’re looking to grab some ground beef, you might actually end up with the slime! (1, 2)
Three Tips to Avoid Pink Slime
If you’re hoping to avoid eating, purchasing, or encountering “pink slime”, then fear no! You have a few options to keep this sludge off your plate. They might take some willpower, extra cash, and a discerning eye to accomplish, but it’s entirely doable.
1. Eat Products That Are 100% Grass-Fed
If a meat product is 100% grass-fed, then it won’t be processed or treated. However, just because a product is labeled “grass-fed” doesn’t mean it is 100% grass-fed or that it’s ammonia free! Being aware of labels and what they actually mean is important. Many labels are marketing ploys designed to trick you into thinking you’re getting something you’re not. A product can earn the label “grass-fed” even if it was only 1% grass-fed. While rare, there are some companies out there today that produce 100% grass-fed meat. Companies like Grassland Beef offer sustainably raised, 100% grass-fed, grass-finished beef delivered right to your door. So, do your research to find manufacturers that provide 100% grass-fed meat products and avoid using ammonia, then only purchase your meat from them.
2. Eat Certified Organic Products
If you can’t find any reasonable grass-fed options, then consider organic. Before you purchase, however, understand that “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthy” and “certified organic” is different from “organic.” Some organic products aren’t necessarily your healthiest option. Additionally, ‘organic’ is largely a marketing ploy and holds little weight unless certified. In order to achieve a certified organic label, however, food products must abide by certain rules. When it comes to organic standards, manufacturers are entirely prohibited from treating meat with any form of ammonia, even if it’s meant to fight bacteria. Organic standards also prevent manufacturers from using dyes to preserve the color of food. This is good news for anyone hoping to get fresher, more natural foods! Keep in mind that if you purchase certified organic beef products, you’ll certainly end up paying more money for your product but you’ll also avoid purchasing any of that nasty “pink slime.” (1, 2, 3)
3. Avoid Beef Product Altogether
This might sound like an impossible goal, but just because we like beef doesn’t mean we need to eat it weekly–or even monthly! Many of us could use far less red meat in our diet and our health would benefit greatly. Conventional beef presents some problematic health issues for the human body, and pink slime presents even more. Thankfully, there are many vegetarian or vegan alternatives that offer plenty of health benefits. Not only that, but chicken and fish products provide plenty of protein. If you’re hoping to avoid pink slime altogether but don’t have a lot of extra spending money for organic or grass-fed products, consider cutting down your meat intake.