Web Exclusive | April 2012 | By Brendan O’Brien

The Pink Slime Dilemma

Public outcry sparks debate over what to do with lean finely textured beef.

One month after the “pink slime” controversy initially made waves across the U.S., a new report shows that consumers are still concerned about the contents of the meat they eat at quick serves.

The controversy, ignited after an ABC News report detailed the use of the additive lean finely textured beef (LFTB) in fast food burgers and tacos, is forcing quick-serve operators to set the record straight with customers and re-evaluate what they put in their food.

According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive Inc., 76 percent of adults indicated a level of concern about LFTB being used as an additive in the meat they consume, while 30 percent stated they were “extremely concerned.”

The poll, conducted in collaboration with Red Robin International Inc., which says it does not use LFTB in its burgers, also found that 88 percent of adults are at least aware of the issue.

Quick-service giants have sought cover from the issue in a variety of ways. Wendy’s, for example, responded with ads in eight major daily newspapers telling the public that it does not use LFTB. Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini says that while the ads were an unusual step for the company, they were necessary to ensure Wendy’s stood out from “the clutter.”

“We had to set the record straight. We wanted to make it clear what our beef standards are and what we stand for in terms of the quality of our product,” Bertini says. “We felt it was important given the confusion to add some clarity to the conversation surrounding Wendy’s.”

Wendy’s also took advantage of the ads to tell consumers that all of its beef comes from cattle raised in North America and that the company does not use fillers, additives, or preservatives.

“It costs us [to run the ads], but we are not willing to compromise our standards,” Bertini says. “We can’t speak for others in the industry, but we wanted to do what we felt was right for Wendy’s.”

McDonald’s released a statement at the height of the controversy, stating that it removed LFTB from its supply chain last August. Other quick-service chains have attempted to have a dialogue about “pink slime” with their customers, using the media to explain their practices with LFTB.

While quick serves attempt to do damage control with consumer outcry against “pink slime,” the food industry is trying to make sense of how the controversy was ignited in the first place and how it should treat LFTB moving into the future.

“What has to happen in the future is quick-service companies have to start thinking about the implications of virtually all the things that they say and do.”

According to the experts, lean finely textured beef is trimmed from larger beef and steak pieces, then slightly heated and spun, which separates the fat from the lean beef. The product is treated with ammonium hydroxide, an antimicrobial agent that is commonly used throughout the food industry to improve food safety, and added to regular beef product.

John Stanton, a professor in food marketing at St. John’s University, says LFTB is harmless and that customers angry over its use don’t clearly understand what it is.

“[Suppliers] are creating meat that is 90 percent protein at a very economical price, and they let the food police and the online [critics] basically ruin a really good product,” Stanton says.

He says the term pink slime was used internally at beef suppliers, and that their failure to realize how harshly the public would perceive it is at the root of their problem.

“There are no longer internal expressions, everything is external and everything is available to everybody,” he says. “What I think has to happen in the future is that [quick-service companies] have to start thinking about what are the implications of virtually all the things that they say and do.”

Some of the controversy has been the result of consumers being misinformed, confirms Ryan Cox, assistant professor of meat science at the University of Minnesota.

“As we continue into the information age, we are seeing a very good thing in the fact that people are learning more and more about where their food comes from,” Cox says. “But, in so doing, there is ... information about processes that they do not fully understand. These are fairly long-standing practices in agriculture.”

Cox says the agriculture industry is and should be interested in transparency. The LFTB controversy is “an opportunity for the agriculture and food industries to tell their story and explain what they are doing,” Cox says.

Still, after the uproar caused by the ABC News report, many in quick service are likely to avoid using LFTB. And some in the industry are happy to know it will become a less significant part of menus nationwide.

“It’s actually really exciting that the public is getting excited about the fact that there is crap in their beef,” says Hans Hess, CEO of Elevation Burger, which serves grass-fed, free-range, organic beef.

Hess says the company is taking advantage of the “pink slime” controversy to remind customers about where its beef comes from. Signs will be displayed in restaurants stating that Elevation Burger does not use LFTB.

Why? “Just in case those people that come to us just for taste and do not realize what they are eating is pretty darn good for them, that they can have that assurance,” Hess says.



it's about time consumers woke up to the FACT that most of the meat producers don't care about them, and only care about the bottom line. If cows and chickens were grown as nature intended, their meat wouldn't need to be treated with chlorine and ammonia among other harmful chemicals. If the USDA actually cared about the citizens of America, they wouldn't advocate the safety of treated meats. Back in the day, you had farmers producing meat. Now you have engineers. If only these consumers would advocate for the proper labeling of ALL foods, we might stand a better chance of winning the "war" on cancer and birth defects. Buy organic, buy foods pledging they don't source ingredients that have been genetically engineered. That includes fruits and vegetables. Anyone wonder why autism rates have spiked? It used to be 1/1000 kids would be born, now it is under 1/100. Don't you think it has something to do with the food we have been fed over the last several decades? Hopefully the rest of you QSR operators will do what is right and eliminate these toxins from your food.

Sodium levels at QSR's does way more damage than these types of additives. There are studies that show high sodium diets in elderly can impair brain function. What must it do to small children?

To provide perspective,ammonium hydroxide-basedcompounds can be found inevery component of a baconcheeseburger (bun, bacon,cheese, condiments, andbeef) between the naturallyoccurring levels and smallamounts used to make foodsafer.Bun 2 oz = 50 mg(440 ppm*)Bacon 1 oz = 16 mg(160 ppm)Condiments 2 oz = 50 mg(400 ppm)Cheese .8 oz = 38 mg(813 ppm)Beef 1.6 oz = 20 mg(200 ppm)

that's why i don't eat any of the above mentioned items, and don't serve them either. and to the comment about sodium levels, yes, sodium is bad there is no arguing that. but the other "additives" have been PROVEN to ALTER DNA molecules, the same DNA that is passed on to newborn babies, raising their risk for DS, Asbergers and many other conditions. One might look at the source of the sodium that was studied, probably in foods that were genetically modified and laced with poisons that the human body IS NOT SUPPOSED TO CONSUME!

You have no idea what you are talking about. Cows and chickens raised "as nature intended" are still full of such things as salmonella and ecoli. Ammonium hydroxide has been used for years in several areas of the food industry and helps keep you safe from foodborne illness. Your statements about higher autism rates neglect the fact that it is more due to the changed definitions of autism and the creation of an "autism spectrum" than it does with any actual increase in the condition itself.

I am a quick serve owner/operator. I am appalled that anyone would suggest that "customers angry over its use dont clearly understand what it is." Whenever cleaning products such as ammonia are necessary to cleanse food, there is a problem. Customers are not stupid, they have just been tricked. It should be mandatory for manufacturers AND restaurants to declare the use of such products so that customers can make informed decisions. Those who wish to eat food that has been disinfected with chemicals should be given the information AND the choice of eating it. I will never eat a hamburger again. But this is the tip of the iceberg, isn't it? There are many hidden truths in the food business. I suspect that we will be hearing more about "what customers don't know". Beetle - juice (or frappiuccino) anyone?

One month after the story breaks, QSR decides it deserves some coverage. Wow that's bold and fearless...

Pink slime, why would the creators name it that? Think on that....

I truly think that smart burgers chains like Wendy's will start making the public more aware what is in their beef and those that don't will be held in suspicion. People are becoming more aware and educated about what food products they are putting In their and their familie's mouths.Iam very glad to see this happen!

Add new comment