Schools unsure if they serve ‘pink slime’

L ocal school officials are exploring whether the beef products they serve to students is “pink slime.”

“We’re going to probe into it a little deeper,” said Jodi Bradshaw, business manager for the Whitehall school district.

She said the school participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities program and purchases much of its beef through the program. She said she was unsure what percentage of that beef could be considered to contain “pink slime.”

Lean fine-textured beef, or “pink slime,” is ammonia-treated beef trimmings added to ground beef as filler.

The trimmings are leftover meat that is still attached to bones after typical processing. The bones are then boiled or pressure-cooked to loosen the flesh, passed through a centrifuge to separate the tissue from the bone, and then treated with ammonia to kill germs.

It’s believed that 70 percent of ground beef in the country contains the substance and the USDA doesn’t require it to be labeled.

Officials with the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union, which oversees schools in Benson, Fair Haven, Castleton and Orwell said they purchase their food from a pair of food service companies: the Abby Group and Café Services.

Cheryl Slayton, a food service specialist with the Abby Group, said all the beef they receive is USDA quality but was unsure if it contains pink slime

“We haven’t received any feedback from the USDA on whether it has it,” she said.

School officials in Granville said they were unsure as to whether the “lean, fine-textured beef” was used in hamburger in their district.

Business manager Cathy Somich said the school signs a contract with the USDA at the beginning of the school year. Superintendent Mark Bessen said that if the district were given the option to get meat that did not use the additive, it would choose that option.

The district received an email Monday from the Office of General Services, which oversees the program.

“We been advised by the USDA that for the 2012-2013 school year that the specification for beef will be changed to remove the option for beef vendors to utilize Lean Fine Textured Beef (LFTB) in the production of beef supplied under USDA bids. LFTB is a safe material that has been utilized in the production of USDA beef products for the past two decades. All beef that is in inventory and on order for the 2011-2012 school year must be utilized before new inventory is received. This product is safe for consumption and since the product has already been purchased, there is no way to credit entitlement if recipients refuse this product,” the email read.

The Hartford Board of Education voted Monday to receive 100 percent beef – with no additives – from the USDA for next school year.

Superintendent Thomas Abraham said the USDA is giving schools that option for next year. “We have no way of knowing if ‘pink slime’ is in the government meat that we ordered.  There is a high probability there is,” he said. “However, the government sent out an email to school cafeterias the option for next year to either go to 100-percent beef (the no slime option) or order beef with the additive.  The board authorized to purchase only 100 percent beef next year.”

In a response released earlier this month by the USDA, the agency stated that the particular amount of a product that is served in a specific school district is difficult to measure and depends on a school-by-school basis.

However it went on to say the lean finely textured beef, or “pink slime” has been allowed as a component of ground beef purchased by the USDA for distribution through the National School Lunch Program. The maximum allowable percentage of “pink slime” for the NSLP is 15 percent, similar to what is found in most beef products at the supermarket.

Several fast food chains, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell have announced they would discontinue using the beef additive in their products.

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