Where's the beef? Groceries dump 'pink slime'

Despite USDA claims that the meat product is safe, several supermarket chains have announced they will not carry products that have "pink slime" as an ingredient.

FILE - This undated file photo provided by Beef Products Inc., shows the company's ammonia-treated filler, known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef."(AP Photo/Beef Products Inc.)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn (WVLT) -- Despite USDA claims that the meat product is safe, several supermarket chains have announced they will not carry products that have "pink slime" as an ingredient.

The meat byproduct, known as lean finely textured beef (LFTB), is used as a low-cost filler for ground beef products. So which East Tennessee grocery stores are selling it?

Leftover fatty meat trimmings are heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella. The pejorative nickname came from a federal microbiologist who is critical of the product.

Though the term "pink slime" has been used for at least several years, public outcry has grown sharply as images, media reports and online petitions about it have spread.

Steven Cohen, director of media relations at the International Food Information Council, a Washington-based nonprofit backed by food, beverage and agricultural companies, told the Associated Press that ammonium hydroxide was affirmed safe by the FDA in 1974 after an extensive review.

So why are so many people appalled by its use in food? Likely because ammonium hydroxide is also used as a "sanitizer in many household and industrial cleaners."

Cohen said ammonium hydroxide is used extensively as a "direct food additive" in dozens of other items, including "baked goods, cheese, chocolates" and more.

Local 8 News wanted you to know about the ground beef you are buying at your local grocery stores, so we contacted several chain grocers in our region to get some answers. Do you sell beef with LFTB?

ALDI: No. The company released a statement Friday: "Over the last week, customers have been telling us that they do not want ground beef made with lean finely textured beef (LFTB). That's why ALDI has decided that, we no longer will purchase ground beef made with this ingredient."

FOOD CITY: No. Steve Halloway, Food City's director of Meat/Seafood Operations, told Local 8 News, "As of Friday, March 23, we are not purchasing any products with lean finely textured beef." He said while stores may currently still have offerings currently on the shelves, those products will not be offered into the future.

FOOD LION: No. The company released a statement: “Food Lion has made the decision to no longer carry fresh ground beef products that contain lean finely textured beef (LFTB) or boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) as a result of current consumer preferences and feedback. We are currently working with our suppliers on an immediate transition plan based on product availability. In the interim, we encourage customers who wish to purchase ground beef that does not contain LFTB or BLBT to choose our 80 percent lean ground beef, which we guarantee is free of LFTB or BLBT. While we understand that both the USDA and food industry experts agree that LFTB and BLBT are safe and nutritious, Food Lion is committed to offering high-quality, wholesome products for our customers based on their preferences.”

INGLES: No. Chief Financial Officer Ron Freeman told Local 8 News, "We do not have any lean finely textured beef, or whatever the stuff was, in any of our products."

KROGER: No. The company released a statement: "Kroger listens to our customers carefully to provide the high quality products they want at the great prices they deserve. Our customers have expressed their concerns that the use of lean finely textured beef- while fully approved by the USDA for safety and quality-is something they do not want in their ground beef. We highly value customer feedback, and the recent flood of news stories has diminished their confidence in the product. As a result, Kroger will no longer purchase ground beef containing lean finely textured beef."

TARGET: No. A spokesperson told the Associated Press: "Our ground beef vendors do not use an ammonium hydroxide treatment in their production processes. Any additional questions can be directed to vendors."

WALMART AND SAM'S CLUB: Yes and no. A company spokesperson told the Associated Press: "We spend a lot of time listening to customers and adjusting our product assortment to ensure we have the right products at the right prices. Recently some customers have expressed concerns with lean finely textured beef (LFTB) and, while the USDA and experts agree that it is safe and nutritious, Walmart and Sam’s Club will begin offering fresh ground beef that does not contain LFTB. We're committed to providing our customers with quality products at the right prices.”

The company says it will have new products without the additive in stores as quickly as possible, and that its meat department and customer service staffers will tell customers who inquire about the new meat offerings. It did not say it would stop selling beef with the filler altogether.

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