by Catrin Svensson.
The spring semester is in full swing and home-cooked meals are history. It’s either fast or no food. “Sometimes, when I walk by McDonald’s, it reminds me that I am hungry,” says Heather Rueger a City College biology student, who says that she tries to avoid fast food, but admits that she eats “Mickey D’s” about twice a month.
Like many students, Rueger contributes to the more than $110 billion a year Americans spend on fast food. But she had no idea that the hamburgers she enjoys contain ammonium hydroxide, also known as “pink slime.”
“Ammonium hydroxide, isn’t that a toilet cleaning product?” asked Rueger when she found out.
The issue of pink slime has been present, but well hidden, since the late 1980s. But it was celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver who stubbornly drove the issue into the homes of his viewers last spring. He became repulsed and made it his mission to educate people about the ingredient. “Why would any sensible human being want to put ammonia- filled meat in their children’s mouths,” said Oliver on his show.
Oliver also claimed that 70 percent of ground beef products contain ammonium in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, has made it legal for companies not to disclose the pink slime as an ingredient, leaving the consumer in the dark. The agency limits the ammonia-treated trimmings to 15 percent and claims that it is completely safe for ingestion. But why would the food business need to use powerful chemicals in food?
“When you have broken down a whole cow, you are left with trimmings. In my business we call that shit and we get rid of it,” Oliver explained to his audience. Scientists agree that trimmings are not fit for human consumption, because they contain pathogens such as salmonella and e- coli. Ammonia is a powerful antimicrobial substance that is believed to kill harmful pathogens, transforming uneatable trimmings to an acceptable and cheap form of meat.
Last month, McDonald’s announced it had removed pink slime from the menu, while arguing on its website that the ingredient was safe and only used temporarily to meet demand.
Pink slime made new headlines this past week. Several stories revealed that the USDA is planning to continue purchasing millions of pounds of pink slime meat, as part of its national school lunch program. Former microbiologists for the USDA Gerald Zirnstein and retired USDA microbiologist Carl Custer both voiced concerns in media reports. In fact, Zirnstein admitted that he would not let his child eat the ammonia treated “meat”.
Despite increased pressures from worried parents and consumers, the USDA has not answered or responded to any media requests and do not have any useful information on its website pertaining to the issue. Smith, was also not available to answer any questions when the Daily, attempted to contact her.
Oliver, other chefs, and scientists suggests that rather than getting a fast food burger or pre-packaged ground beef, to ask the butcher to mince the meat in front of you. Be aware, that although a cheap lunch alternative serve your wallet now, it may end up costing you later.