The Latest on Finely Textured Beef

The Wall Street Journal called me last month for thoughts on a piece they were doing regarding the resurgence of finely textured beef (aka “pink slime”) in answer to rising beef prices.

Back in August of 2012,img-learn-packaging-overwrap we addressed the potential future impact on the industry due to the pink slime hysteria ignited by the media on consumer markets. (Read 1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Foodservice Industry DOES want you to know.)

Thousands of good working people ultimately lost their jobs at companies producing Finely Textured Beef (FTB) who were forced to shut down from an avalanche of cancelled orders due to the misguided media frenzy. What made the situation even more exasperating was the fact that these production processes were USDA approved. All laws and regulations were followed, but it was the processors that bore the immediate brunt of the fallout.

When this occurred, the beef industry was experiencing its lowest herd numbers since 1955 due to drought, and the impact of removing FTB from the food supply required a substantially large amount of additional cattle to fill the demand gap for ground beef.

It was more than logical to predict these effects would likely drive up cattle futures and eventually the price of ground beef for all of us.

How Much is Too Much?

Before the pink slime hysteria in 2012, the average price of 100% ground beef in 2011 was $2.78/lb as per the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has been tracking ground beef prices since 1984. By May 2014, the average price of 100% ground beef was $3.85/lb, a 38% price increase compared to the 2% average annual rate of inflation in the United States. Just last weekend, a friend of mine told me she paid almost $5/lb. for 80/20 ground beef at her local grocery store. Consumers, retailers and regrill imagesstaurateurs are all paying much more now for ground beef.

Ground beef is the most bought and consumed type of beef by far. With that in mind, combined with the fact that beef prices are at record highs, it’s no wonder that finely textured beef is indeed making a comeback.  Retailers and consumers, perhaps now more properly educated on the subject, are purchasing products that include FTB in the ingredients.

FTB is currently sold to over 400 retail, food-service and food-processing customers, more than before the 2012 controversy, albeit overall in smaller amounts. Production of finely textured beef has also recently doubled at some manufacturing plants from its low point after the controversy.

Environmentally Sound

The production process for finely textured beef recovers lean beef from steak and roast fat trimmings that would otherwise be wasted. It is made the same way the dairy industry makes cream by using centrifugal force to separate the cream from milk. Cargill posted an easy to follow video outlining the start to finish process early this year; watch it here.

ftbThe maximized use of harvested animals, further popularized by “nose-to-tail” culinary trends, also makes the most of the limited natural resources used to produce beef. Conversely, in a market free of FTB, the following occurs: 1.5M more head of cattle are needed to fill the gap, 10.5M more acres of land is used for grazing those cattle, 375B more gallons of water is utilized to feed and process the cattle and 97M more bushels of corn is needed to feed them, which is grown on 600K more acres of land.

Wrap Up

On the surface, the return of FTB to the market would seem to indicate retailers and consumers are more concerned about cost than method. The good news is, environmentally sound USDA approved beef practices, which produce quality ground beef at better prices, is back.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats Facebook

Create PDF    Send article as PDF   

Should You Care If “Finely Textured Beef” Is In the Ground You Buy?

Remember all the buzz last year around “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB) aka “Pink Slime”?   

Last August, I wrote about how the fallout from unfair and erroneous media reporting affected employment and ground beef prices in “1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Food Industry Does Want You to Know“.   

The product was perfectly safe, and USDA approved, but much of the ado was over the fact that consumers were unaware of the process large manufacturers used to produce ground beef. That uproar took most of the product off the market.

What Goes Around Comes Around

11-12price of ground beefHere, we are a little more than a year later, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the price of ground beef is 17% higher on average than last year.  Compare that to the CPI for all food, which grew only 1.4% over last year.

Consumer demand for lower prices is now bringing back finely textured beef.  This time, however, it will be marked as such on the label – kind of.  

Cargill, one of the world’s largest beef companies, just announced it will note the use of finely textured beef in its U.S. ground beef product labels, when applicable. 

In reality, the product never actually went away.  The USDA does not require specific labeling for finely textured beef because the product is 100% beef.

Following the Label Trail   

Cargill has continued to produce finely textured beef for inclusion in its ground beef products and has been doing so since the 1990′s. However, in response to consumer demand for transparency, Cargill will begin to put “contains finely textured beef” on bulk boxes of its ground beef sold to grocery stores for repackaging.

The $64,000 dollar question then is: Will your grocer or foodservice purveyor put that same information on their in-house label when they repackage bulk ground from Cargill?  11-12groundbeef-300x225

Cargill’s labeling disclosure of finely textured beef is voluntary.  A grocery store or foodservice purveyor can purchase Cargill’s bulk ground beef containing lean finely textured beef for a lower price than ground beef without it. They can repackage either product under their own in-house brand and sell them as ground beef or burgers. The possibility exists then that you the consumer may not know which beef you’re buying.  

Next Question: Should You Care?   

Ground beef made with lean finely textured beef is perfectly safe and is technically 100% ground beef.  LFTB is made from the chunks, bits and pieces of beef that remain on the unused parts and fat of the animals, harvested through a scientific separation process. It is the scraps, but still 100% beef and quite inexpensive. 

Lean finely textured beef serves to fill certain demand in the market for low cost ground beef and as a low cost food ingredient. It also relieves the pressure on ground beef pricing by increasing the available supply to meet that demand.

Wrap Up

Food labels are ever evolving. There is current debate whether or not to label genetically modified foods, “GMO”s, and demand to tighten up the loose definition of “Natural” on labels.  Chefs, restaurateurs and consumers want and deserve to know what’s in their food. 

The disclosure of the use of lean finely textured beef as an ingredient is currently voluntary for ground beef and burgers. Thus, buyers can use price as a key indicator for the ingredients and quality of what they’re buying. If the price is cheap relative to similar other choices, the type of ground beef being merchandised, may be suspect as such.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

 

 

PDF Printer    Send article as PDF   

1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Food Industry Does Want You to Know

US News recently updated, 10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, originally published in 2008. The tenth thing speaks directly to my industry – meat.

Regurgitated negative news and the manipulation of facts by the media are more common than we’d like to think. In this case, “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB), also known in slang terms as, “Pink Slime”, bore the brunt of numerous media inspired controversy.

Void of clarity in food science, production, safety and regulations, the press essentially led the way to reactive change. Negative ramifications have since begun to emerge in direct result and stand to reason why we are paying higher prices for ground beef today.

Science Sounds Scary

Part of the LFTB process involves heating beef trimmings to soften fat and then spinning them in a centrifuge to separate the fat from the lean meat. The lean meat is then treated with a puff of ammonium hydroxide for food safety purposes to kill bacteria such as, E. coli O157:H7.

Words that begin with prefixes such as “hyd” and end in “ide” (including any other chemical sounding words for that matter) generally make people think they are unsafe. However, the use of this compound in food processing has been consistently studied since the 1970’s and was approved for use in food manufacturing by the USDA and in Title 21 by the FDA.

This bears repeating: The use of ammonium hydroxide is approved by two regulating government agencies for food production use.

Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia combined with water. Ammonia is a compound consisting of nitrogen and hydrogen. Ammonia and ammonium hydroxide are very common compounds both found naturally in our environment – in air, water, soil, plants and animals. Ammonia is also produced in the human body, by our organs, tissues and by the beneficial bacteria living in our intestines. Eating good bacteria has become more commonplace in recent years with the introduction of probiotics to the dairy product markets.

You may also be interested in knowing ammonium hydroxide is used as a direct food additive in baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, caramel, puddings and scads of other foods. However, unlike ground beef, these food products have yet to be subjected to media centric sensationalism.

Monkey See, Monkey Skewed

Last year, ABC’s Food Revolution Chef, Jamie Oliver, campaigned against LFTB by pouring a bottle of ammonia over ground beef on camera and telling viewers that’s what their children were eating in school lunches. Oliver manipulated Pink Slime in a trend du jour fashion which is most ironic as the term had been coined by a USDA microbiologist years prior when he used it to describe its pink tones when unfrozen.

Oliver’s tangent went viral, was heralded in the media and thus ignited consumer outrage. LFTB bashings across social, print and broadcast media seemed irreversible until recently. Counter reports to Oliver’s fact void haberdashery have since been published by the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, New York Times, in opinion blogs and by watch dog groups.

Unfortunately, refuted claims were far too slow in coming as school districts, retailers and foodservice operators had already caved to public pressure and stopped purchasing ground beef made with LFTB in favor of 100% pure ground beef.

How This Fallout Affects All of Us

To date public outcry over Pink Slime has subsided leaving a trail of economic ills behind. Business, industry, employment and pricing relevant to the situation now travel in negative directions.

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) was a large manufacturer of LFTB who used the approved process to bring economically priced lean ground beef to market. However, due to the change of institutional, retail and consumer markets from LFTB blended ground beef to 100% ground beef, BPI was forced to close three of their four plants and lay off over 600 workers.

Consider that circumstance again – 75% of their business output channels were lost and the employees that ran them. What adds insult to BPI’s injury is they were a company widely known for pioneering food safety measures – they made a habit of finding ways to produce safer meat.

AFA Foods, a ground beef processor who provided over 500 million pounds of ground beef annually with over 800 employees, filed for bankruptcy last April, citing “changes in the market” for its treated beef products. Last month, two AFA plants were sold to different companies, Cargill and CTI dismantling the business piece by piece.

Consumer prices for 100% ground beef have since outpaced inflation and hit a record high this month. The beef industry, already seeing its lowest herd numbers since 1955 due to drought, now needs 1.5 million head more to fill the demand gap for ground beef. These effects will likely drive up cattle futures and ultimately the price of beef for all of us.

What is most tragic about the LFTB timeline is the delay in rebuttal coverage. Ultimately, major corporations gave in to misguided public opinion, people lost their jobs, and lean ground beef choices have all but disappeared from the marketplace.

Food manufacturers are often taken to task on the hype used to sell their products. US News says, “A health claim on the label doesn’t necessarily make a food healthy”. To that end, the one thing the food industry does want you to know is this: media claims about the food industry do not necessarily make a food unhealthy.

___________________________________________________________________________

From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

Cited Links:

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/03/30/things-the-food-industry-doesnt-want-you-to-know?page=3

http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Questions_and_Answers_about_Ammonium_Hydroxide_Use_in_Food_Production

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Regulations_&_Policies/Regulations_Directives_&_Notices/index.asp

http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=184.1139

http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/tc/probiotics-topic-overview

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rob-lyons/jamie-olivers-pink-slime_b_1240983.html

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/09/148298678/is-it-safe-to-eat-pink-slime

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/the-pink-menace/

http://www.nclnet.org/newsroom/press-releases/640-statement-of-sally-greenberg-executive-director-on-lean-finely-textured-beef

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/opinion/sunday/what-if-it-werent-called-pink-slime.html

http://www.beefproducts.com/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304023504577319512349299958.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/13/cargill-beef-idUSL2E8ID04720120713

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cti-foods-acquires-afa-foods-inc-king-of-prussia-ground-beef-processing-plant-162366896.html?utm_expid=43414375-18&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D%26esrc%3Ds%26source%3Dweb%26

http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/376014/20120822/skyrocketing-ground-beef-prices-hit-record-highs.htm#.UDRz8mZGOSo)

 

 

Free PDF    Send article as PDF