Portland schools reject ‘pink slime’

The revulsion to ‘pink slime‘ — an ammonia-treated ground beef filler being served as a low-cost food product in school cafeterias around the country — has hit an all-time high thanks to the impact of social media, through which parents and nutrition advocates have rallied opposition.

In this undated image released by Beef Products Inc., boneless lean beef trimmings are shown before packaging. (AP photo)

The name endearingly used by opponents to describe the stuff draws to mind, not by accident, an evil creeping blob straight out of the Golden Age of Horror movies. The good news locally? Portland schools are not in the shadow of that hovering blob.

More specifics in a moment.

Here are a few catch-up paragraphs lifted from a recent Associated Press story about the subject:

The controversy centers on “lean finely textured beef,” a low-cost ingredient in ground beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 F 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.

There are no precise numbers on how prevalent the product is, and it does not have to be labeled as an ingredient. Past estimates have ranged as high as 70 percent; one industry officials estimates it is in at least half of the ground meat and burgers in the United States.

It 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 process as a potentially unsafe and unappetizing example of industrialized food production.

More recently, Maine’s 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, has stepped into the fray, asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to renounce the substance, noting that not even fast food burger joints consider the stuff OK.

Back to Portland. Portland Public Schools, which have been working hard on nutritional excellence and have been recognized nationally for it, don’t serve lean finely textured beef.

Here are a few more paragraphs released by the district explaining its food procurement procedures, which are unusual among schools in the country:

The district buys precooked beef burgers from a national company that does not use LFTB. In addition, growing portions of Portland’s ground beef purchases are from local companies committed to natural and sustainable farming practices.Portland’s school lunch program currently purchases burgers from the Maine Grind in Portland that uses ground beef from Herring Brothers Meats in Guilford — a Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA) certified processing facility. Herring Brothers uses 100 percent Maine beef with no LFTB, other fillers, or chemicals in their ground beef. In the last few years, Portland’s school lunches have also featured burgers from Pineland Farms in New Gloucester and Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport.

Unlike most other school districts in the country, Portland does not purchase ground beef from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) School Commodities Market. All USDA food dollars are received in cash that can be spent with any vendor rather than being locked into commodities foods.

Portland is one of only 30 school districts in the country to have this distinction. That enables the school system to purchase more food from local companies. It also gives the district more flexibility to access the best products at the best prices.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.