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You are what you eat: McRib’s ‘restructured meat product’ and Pink Slime infused burgers

There is a piece over at The Week, “What’s the McRib made of, anyway?” that answers the question about what’s in McDonald’s pork sandwich that recently made its return to the menu for a limited time. Since I live in the South and have access to real barbecue, not pre-fab, I wondered why anyone would eat this garbage. I wasn’t far off about it being garbage:

At face value, the sandwich contains just pork, onions, and pickle slices slathered in barbecue sauce and laid out on a bun. But the truth is, there are roughly 70 ingredients. The bun alone contains 34, says TIME‘s Melnick. In addition to chemicals like ammonium sulfate and polysorbate 80, the most egregious may be azodicarbonamide — “a flour-bleaching agent most commonly used in the manufactur[ing] of foamed plastics like gym mats the and soles of shoes.” According to McDonald’s own ingredient list, the bun also includes calcium sulfate and ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, among other chemicals.

If you start off with that much trash in the bun, you can only imagine what the “meat” inside the bun is:

Pig innards and plenty of salt. Typically, “restructured meat product” includes pig bits like tripe, heart, and scalded stomach, says Whet Moser at Chicago Magazine, citing a 1995 article by Robert Mandigo, a professor at the University of Nebraska. These parts are cooked and blended with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins, which act as a “glue” that helps bind the reshaped meat together.

Actually, let’s take the horrifying McRib off of the hot seat for a moment. Take the all-American staple, the hamburger, as served by McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food outlets. Would you like fries with your Pink Slime? Yes, that’s the nickname of the “beef product” created by the uniquely-named Beef Products Inc., a supplier to McDs. Faced with what we consider slaughterhouse waste product from the cow, Beef Products Inc. came up with a novel way to turn what was formerly only used in dog food into a cash cow by treating the by-products with ammonia to kill E. coli and germs and mixing it into a slimy additive to stretch out “real beef.” And the U.S. government food safety agencies approved it. From the original report in the NYT (2009’s “Safety of Beef Processing Method Is Questioned“):

Beef Products Inc., had been looking to expand into the hamburger business with a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella.

…With the U.S.D.A.’s stamp of approval, the company’s processed beef has become a mainstay in America’s hamburgers. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.

The company says its processed beef, a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a “processing agent” and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.

Think about that when you see that juicy fast-food, pink slime-infused burger on a TV ad. Think about how many U.S. kids are being fed this crap by parents who go up to the drive through, unaware that the meat contains what’s swept off of the slaughterhouse floor, clean and “enhanced.” And their kids are eating pink slime in their schools as well:

In 2004, lunch officials increased the amount of Beef Products meat allowed in its hamburgers to 15 percent, from 10 percent, to increase savings. In a taste test at the time, some school children favored burgers with higher amounts of processed beef.

…In early 2003, officials in Georgia returned nearly 7,000 pounds to Beef Products after cooks who were making meatloaf for state prisoners detected a “very strong odor of ammonia” in 60-pound blocks of the trimmings, state records show.

“It was frozen, but you could still smell ammonia,” said Dr. Charles Tant, a Georgia agriculture department official. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”


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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding