Ammonia-Treated Meat Called ‘Pink Slime’ No Longer Mandatory for School Lunch Program, Says USDA

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A school worker prepares ground beef for school lunches
Source: Josh Kerns, “Schools Can Opt Out of Using ‘Pink Slime’ in Lunches, Despite Its Defenders,”, Mar. 15, 2012

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Mar. 15, 2012 that schools will have the option of ordering ground beef for school lunches without “pink slime.”

“Pink slime,” otherwise known as “lean finely textured beef,” is made from trimmings, which are smaller pieces of fat that contain bits of beef, according to the American Meat Institute, a trade group representing meatpackers. The trimmings are heated and spun to separate out the meat, then the meat is treated with ammonia (or citric acid) and water to eliminate harmful bacteria.

More than 220,000 people signed an online petition calling on the USDA to stop using “pink slime” in the federal school lunch program, which the agency administers. The USDA’s decision to make “pink slime” use optional vs. mandatory was made “in response to requests from school districts across the country” and takes effect in the 2012-13 school year, according to its announcement.

The announcement also stated that the USDA “only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable,” and that the USDA “continues to affirm the safety of Lean Finely Textured Beef product for all consumers and urges customers to consult science based information on the safety and quality of this product.”

According to NPR, there are no precise numbers on how prevalent “pink slime” is, but one industry official estimates it is in at least half of the ground meat and burgers in the US. In the 2011-12 school year, the USDA bought 111.5 million pounds of ground beef for its federal school lunch program, of which 7 million pounds is “pink slime” sold by Beef Products Inc., a South Dakota-based manufacturer.

“As parents and consumers continue to make important decisions about the food they and their children eat, we hope that they listen to credible sources outside media sensationalists and take note of the overwhelming support from the government and scientific community” for the product, Eldon Roth, founder of Beef Products Inc., said in a statement on its website.

Sarah Klein, staff attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Food Safety Program, said “There’s a yuck factor involved of treatment of a food product with something like ammonia. Children should be eating healthy food, not the dregs of the food – it’s offensive…”

“Pink slime is safe, nutritious and cheap, but disgusting to think about,” said Marion Nestle, Professor of Food Studies, Nutrition, and Public Health at New York University. “I think of it as pet foods for kids.”

The USDA made its decision in advance of the April purchase order for the fall’s federal school lunch program. Some 32 million children are fed each day in the program.


Emmeline Zhao, “‘Pink Slime’ for Lunch: Schools Can Opt Out of Ammonia-Treated Ground Beef Filler,”, Mar. 15, 2012

Josh Kerns, “Schools Can Opt Out of Using ‘Pink Slime’ in Lunches, Despite Its Defenders,”, Mar. 15, 2012

Maria Recio, “USDA: Schools Can Opt Not to Feed ‘Pink Slime’ to Students,” The Sacramento Bee, Mar. 15, 2012

Stephanie Armour, “Schools to Choose on Serving ‘Pink Slime’ in Cafeterias,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mar. 15, 2012

“USDA Announces Additional Choices for Beef Products in the Upcoming School Year: USDA Affirms Safety of Lean Finely Textured Beef Product for Consumers,”, Mar. 15, 2012