Schools watch for ‘pink slime’ in meat

  • Sun Mar 18th, 2012 10:12pm
  • News

By Alejandro Dominguez and Amy Daybert Herald Writers

It’s called “lean finely textured beef” by state and national agencies. It’s also called “pink slime” by its critics.

And it has been the talk nationwide for more than a week.

The product has been on the market for years, and federal regulators say it meets standards for food safety. But advocates for wholesome food have denounced the processed meat as a potentially unsafe and unappetizing.

The ground beef is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product, made by South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., also is exposed to “a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas” to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.

It became the center of attention when media reports and bloggers claimed schools served the meat in their lunches. And a local school district yanked beef off its menu earlier this month when stories began being published.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday responded to the outcry by announcing school districts in their national school lunch program can opt out from receiving the textured beef next school year. The USDA buys about a fifth of the food served in schools nationwide.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction also announced the state does not receive the textured beef through the USDA.

Beef Products Inc. is not one of the 10 vendors the state purchases food from through out the year, food distributor supervisor Skip Skinner said.

But schools are not required to report to the state where they purchased meat if they go through a private vendor.

“We cannot say unequivocally that the USDA beef offered in the state does not have the treated beef,” Skinner said.

Earlier this month, the Monroe School District removed all beef products until it was clear they were not serving the textured beef.

“We made the decision to be on the safe side and be conservative,” said John Mannix, assistant superintendent for operations, and who oversees the district’s nutrition program.

Beef started being served again last week when the district received assurance from the USDA and its private vendor, Food Services of America, that it was not being given textured beef, Mannix said.

No food was thrown away, he said.

During the days beef was not served, district staff changed the menu by substituting it with other ingredients, spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil said.

Food Services of America also serves the Marysville School District.

The Everett School District contacted their beef supplier, King’s Command in Kent, earlier this week.

“We called our supplier and we do not have any of the product in the food that they provide for us,” said Mary Waggoner, a district spokeswoman. “It’s not in any of our lunches.”

Arlington School District also requested information from their meat suppliers — King’s Command, AdvancePierre Foods and Tyson Food Service. “We were able to obtain the ingredient lists and received letters from the suppliers stating they are not using lean finely textured beef in school meat products,” said Andrea Conley, an Arlington School district spokeswoman. “Our food services director, Ed Aylesworth, stated we currently are not and will not be purchasing products containing lean finely textured beef for our schools.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.