Sunday, March 11, 2012


Meat industry seems to be having frequent problems regarding the safety of some of their products and during the last few years it is pilloried by one scandal after the other, The inhuman abattoir practices and use of antibiotics liberally were two of the most serious issues that caught the attention of the consumers during the last 2-3 years. Frequent contamination episodes further caused huge embarrassment to the industry. The most recent incident concerns the practice of making ground meat, which was found to be fraught with the risk of contaminating the product with E.coli. It concerns use of trimmings from the cows, recovered from layers nearest to the skin, for admixing with the normal meat for achieving lower cost of production. However according to some safety experts these trimmings being close to the skin are often contaminated with pathogens and hence pose greater risk to the consumer. Here is a take on this latest controversy.

"[Trimmings are] taken from the outermost part, and they happen to be the fattiest part of the cow," says Moss. "So they're put into a centrifuge which spits out the protein parts of the material." The term "pink slime" was in fact initially coined by a U.S. Department of Agriculture official Moss met who had seen the "bright pink, aqueous" stuff in a plant. Sounds pretty unappetizing, but there is some appeal to the material: mainly its price. "In the meat industry, there's something called least cost formulations," says Moss. "Companies will mix and match trimmings from different parts of the cow and different suppliers to achieve the perfect level of fatness. This material is ... slightly less expensive." Cheap it may be, but because it comes from the outermost part of the carcass, it's also more susceptible to contamination than other cuts of meat. That's because it could come in contact with the cow's hide, which could have excrement containing pathogens like the dangerous forms of E. coli. The industry tries to purify the material with gaseous ammonia, which raises the alkalinity to a level that E. coli can't tolerate, Moss says. USDA's food safety division says this method is effective. And the company that manufactures it says it also has a rigorous testing system in place. But Moss' s reporting has shown that school food officials have found the bad kind of E. coli in the material where they least expected – the trimmings. "It's entirely approved by USDA ... and accepted as school lunch as a component in the ground beef they purchase," says Moss. "So far they've been holding pat on the safety issue. They're satisfied that their testing program and the way they handle and cook beef is entirely safe for kids." None of the fast food companies — McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King — that decided to stop buying trimmings mentioned safety concerns, either. And even if it's been banished from a lot of fast food burgers, the material is probably still in a lot of ground beef sold at the grocery store. Except it's impossible for consumers to know that since USDA doesn't require meat companies to label whether ground beef includes trimmings.

First reported in products distributed to schools under nutrition programs, trimmings seem to be a part of all products made from ground beef meat used in many main stream products by the food industry. Though use of trimmings is not banned and found safe by the authorities, industry voluntarily stopped supplying products containing trimmings to the schools. However no one knows whether these trimmings form significant portion of ground beef being used by the industry as a whole. Though some major players have already announced discontinuing with this practice, there is no way a consumer can know whether the products in the market still contain trimmings in the absence of any compulsory label declaration. Fortunately, most of the meat industry players do process these trimmings scientifically killing all pathogens though there may be some exceptions which get noticed. There is no way the authorities can clamp down on these practices as they are perfectly legal, at least as of now.


No comments: