Bye-Bye to ‘Pink Slime’?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to offer an alternative to the aptly named “pink slime” – an ammonia-based filler used in ground beef, but the alternative is not finding its way to the cafeteria line quickly enough.

Parents are pressuring the school districts to stop serving products containing the “pink slime” immediately. Some parents around the country are getting their way – in Boston, Miami-Dade, South Carolina and New York the schools are removing inventory of beef that is known to contain this potentially hazardous substance.

Although the vastly popular food chain, McDonald’s, stopped serving patties treated with this filler earlier this year, along with other fast food chains, it was not because the product had been ruled as unsafe. This action was simply the catalyst that has fueled public outrage.

Currently, these beef products are still approved by the USDA.  This filler is known to have been part of the food supply for quite some time, not only at schools and in fast food, but in beef purchased from leading grocery chains as well. Many experts say that the upset is not truly stemmed from a lack of safety, but more from disgust and disdain expressed on social media sites and in news coverage. “The reason why [this issue] has resonated with people is not so much that it’s unsafe, but the idea that we’re putting ammonia in our food is unpalatable to people,” comments Donald W. Schaffer, the director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology at Rutgers University.

Still, food and nutrition directors at elementary schools, high schools and even university’s across the nation are pulling the products from the food line and seeking 100 percent beef products to put in their place.  Deborah Riso, the nutrition director of Portsmouth, New Hampshire told The New York Times, “You just pull [the food product] because you don’t know…. You can still make a nice product without beef.” Ms. Riso is offering chicken and roast beef alternatives to her students as she deals with this crisis.

In the meantime, some parents and many students are avoiding purchasing school lunches altogether. One student in Boston told The New York Times, “I don’t eat school lunch anyway. It looks weird.” A keen observation of the state of things – food that doesn’t look like food is being served to the children in schools nationwide and yet, officials and experts scratch their heads as to why obesity and chronic disease have become so widespread – the cafeteria’s “mystery meat” may just be one piece of the puzzle.

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