Yeah.. you are gonna hate me. I am about to ruin your hamburger habit. Ground beef? Let’s chat.
Did you know that the FDA actually notes a difference between hamburger and ground beef? Hamburger can have up to 30% added beef fat (from any source…trimmings, etc) while ground beef cannot have added fat; only what is in the particular cut that is being ground.
Your favorite fast food place, those convenient frozen patties and the fresh hamburger in the cheap plastic rolls in the store. Gastronomic Roulette, right there.
The ground beef can come from several different cows, several different slaughterhouses, and possibly several different countries – and then be mixed in one huge batch, separated into packages and put on the shelves or sent to food manufacturers to be made into burgers. Since it comes from so many places how can it be traced? It can’t.
But that’s not the worst of it. The New York Times says that up to 80% of the burger sold in America contains an additive whimsically referred to as pink slime. It sounds like a Frank Zappa song from the 70’s doesn’t it? Pink slime has been being added to burger to cut the cost (an estimated 3 cents a pound) with the FDA’s blessing since about 2003.
Once the usable cuts are taken from the carcass the rest is stripped off by a machine that used centrifugal force to get every last molecule from the bones. Most of the material left is in the stomach cavity, by the way. Small pieces of muscle, connective tissue, pieces of organs that weren’t quite all the way removed…These trimmings were once used as pet food and cheap cooking fat (you know, the kind that ISN’T used any more?) But that’s not all. Tom Philpott of Grist has this to say:
To make a long story short: Beef Products buys the cheapest, least desirable beef on offer–fatty sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor, which are notoriously rife with pathogens like E. coli 0157 and antibiotic-resistant salmonella.
Next this conglomeration of beef by products are put through a process that uses ammonia to kill any e Coli or other nasties. The USDA was so impressed with the ammonia treatment that it exempted meat treated with this process from having to be tested. The problem was that consumers detected a ” strong ammonia odor” in some of the meat and so the ammonia was reduced, although still used.
The company is called Beef Products International (site no longer live- may 2014) and a quote directly from their website says:
BPI’s products are found in the majority of all ground beef produced in the United States. Current production of over 7 million pounds per week, makes BPI the world’s largest manufacturer of boneless lean beef in the world. Eating a hamburger from a Quick Service Restaurant or buying ground beef from your local retailer, the chances are you’ll be eating product produced by BPI.
Like the high fructose corn syrup people, BPI says that ammonia is present in all living things and is therefore a “natural” ingredient. My response to that is that manure is present in all living things, too, but I don’t want that added to my Whataburger.
So, giving up hamburgers must be the answer right?
Wrong. Pink slime is also in the following products:
- Low-fat hotdogs
- Taco meats
- Lunch meats
- Beef stick snacks
- Frozen entrees
- Canned foods with meat (Spagettios with meatballs, anyone?)
The ammonia is listed as a processing agent and the pink slime is beef so it can be labeled pure ground beef. Gives a whole new meaning to special sauce, doesn’t it?
As far as which fast food places use the hamburgers made with it? McDonalds and Burger King do, the National School Lunch program does… Again, from Grist magazine
The National School Lunch Program, which forces cafeteria administrators to feed students lunch for $2.68 per student per day, is a microcosm of our cheap food system. Two-thirds of that outlay goes to overhead and labor, leaving much less than a buck to spend on ingredients. No wonder the lunch program is such a massive buyer of pink slime–3.5 million pounds last year alone, the Times reports.’
Taco Bell, Taco Bueno…. who else? Cheap food is cheap for a reason.
Now, you know I am not going to leave you there. There IS a solution.
Grind Your Own
Grind your own or have it ground for you at the market. It would be best if everyone could buy a whole, grass fed beef from a local farmer and have a trusted butcher package it. Not everyone can. You can, however, buy chuck roast at the store and have the meat department grind it up for you OR get a grinder and grind it yourself at home. I wrote an article a few years ago comparing some of my favorite meat grinders.
Grinding meat yourself doesn’t take very long, usually less than five minutes for two or three pounds. It is often as inexpensive as pre-ground meat, but most of all you know that it is safe. e Coli doesn’t occur in roasts for a reason. They are not near the intestines or abdominal cavity. That’s why you are warned about cooking hamburgers to well done but roasts and steaks can be rare.
Buy Grass Fed Organic
Simply, organic producers can’t stoop to these levels. They don’t have enough money to pay off the government.
Tips for Convenient Meals with Home-Ground Beef
- Use grated parmesan to add to home-ground beef to make meatballs, bake a huge batch of them and then freeze for up to six months.
- Make your own hamburger patties and freeze them raw with parchment between each patty or cook them rare and then freeze them to be finished later.
- Mix up a huge batch of taco meat in the crockpot and freeze it in meal sized portions.
Be an informed, responsible consumer. Don’t say you can’t afford to eat healthy foods… you can’t afford not to. Currently my grocery bill is 1/3 of my income and I totally understand but cutting out empty snack foods, buying the best quality you can, and adding homemade breads back to the dinner table will go a long way to make your dollar stretch.
The alternative is disgusting.
images : marye audet (c) 2011