Pink slime is a low-cost additive made from fatty bits of leftover meat that are heated, spun to remove fat, compressed into blocks and exposed to ammonia to kill bacteria. Producers often mix pink slime into ground beef to create a leaner product and reduce costs.
Public outcry about the use of pink slime exploded earlier this month after simmering for months on blogs and in opinion letters written by food-safety advocates. Now, organizations as far-reaching as Safeway grocery stores and the New York Times have spoken out against its use.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on March 15 that this fall, its National School Lunch Program will allow schools to choose if they want to purchase beef without the ingredient formally known as lean finely textured beef (LFTB).
As of July 1, school districts can purchase meals from the USDA free of LFTB.
The majority of Kodiak schools and schools nationwide have likely had the ingredient in school lunches, but it is difficult to know in which meals.
“There’s no way to tell if it’s been in lunches because it’s not required to be a labeled ingredient,” said Tony Warren, education program assistant for Alaska’s USDA food program. “If they’re using ground beef at all, there’s probably pink slime in it, because that has been the industry standard.”
According to the March 15 announcement, the USDA has used LFTB as an ingredient in beef products since the early 1990s. The maximum allowable percentage of LFTB put into single servings of ground beef is 15 percent.
The National School Lunch Program purchases approximately 20 percent of products served in schools nationwide, and of the ground beef purchased, LFTB is approximately 6.5 percent of the volume.
Going into the next school year, Kodiak schools will not serve the ingredient in lunches at all.
While other schools across the U.S. have the option to purchase USDA products with or without the ingredient, Alaska program administrator Jo Dawson said no meals coming here from the USDA will include LFTB.
“The USDA foods that we purchase for Alaska schools will not have the LFTB ingredient,” Dawson said. “But we only account for 15 to 20 percent of the food purchased. Schools purchase the rest through private vendors.”
Sandy Daws, purchasing supervisor for the Kodiak school district, said Kodiak will not buy products with the ingredient from private vendors.
“Alaska has taken it one step further,” Daws said. “Alaska has chosen to be free of the ingredient, and we as a district have followed suit and are requiring all of our beef products to be free of LFTB.”
Kodiak schools are in the process of ordering school lunches for the 2012-2013 school year. The orders through the USDA have already been placed, and the commercial bid to vendors will be completed by March 30.
“We have six items on bid for next year for beef products,” Daws said. “One of our vendors has issued a memo to school districts that their product doesn’t have the LFTB.”
Kodiak schools have three items on the school lunch menu next month that may include the ingredient, Daws said.
Daws has not received calls from parents, but should any concerns surface, Daws urges parents to call her at the district office.
Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at email@example.com.