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Q. Dear Umbra,

Is there a list of companies that do or don’t use “Pink Slime” in their ground meat? I am interested in both restaurants and grocery stores.

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Corvallis, OR

HamburgerHas this hamburger been slimed? Chances are it has …Photo courtesy Klara Kim via FlickrA. Dearest Anne,

Let’s start with a definition. “Pink slime” is the nickname earned by a formerly inedible byproduct of the beef industry. Once used in pet food, it’s now a cheap additive in ground beef.

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Grist’s Tom Philpott explains pink slime this way: it’s “the cheapest, least desirable beef on offer — fatty sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor, which are notoriously rife with pathogens like E. coli 0157 and antibiotic-resistant salmonella. (Beef Products, Inc. or BPI) sends the scraps through a series of machines, grinds them into a paste, separates out the fat, and laces the substance with ammonia to kill pathogens.”

Despite the ammonia, pink slime has had a number of contamination issues. Another thing to have a beef with is pink slime’s official name; the company that makes it misleadingly calls it “Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings.”

As for a list of restaurants and grocery stores that sell pink slime, that’s harder to come by. We can say with certainty that a few major institutions use this additive. Burger King does. And McDonald’s has since 2004. Cargill, the multinational food producer and supplier which services both, is a major pink slime dealer. But since big meat producing companies tend to keep their supply chains hidden, it’s difficult to know exactly who uses pink slime and who doesn’t.

The truth is, Anne, if you eat commercial hamburgers, you’ve probably been slimed. With over 7 million pounds of the special sauce produced and added to 70 percent of ground beef and ground meat products each week in the U.S., it’s hard to avoid. According to BPI, the “world’s leading manufacturer” of the so-called slime, if you’ve had a hamburger from a fast food chain, or bought ground beef from a grocery store, you’ve consumed the stuff.

What’s more, the slime business is growing all the time. BPI’s “ultimate goal is to have our products incorporated in all ground beef and other further processed meats produced in the United States. Our products can also be found in Canada, Mexico, and Japan with expansion plans for Central America, Europe, and Pacific Rim countries.” (Keep those expansion plans in mind if you want to avoid getting slimed when you travel.)

Remember too that BPI sells to hotels and restaurants, food service suppliers, and major packers and processors of retail ground beef and hamburger blends. Even the federal school lunch program has been slimed; it fed kids 5.5 million pounds of the processed trimmings in 2008.

Finally, keep in mind that pink slime is not just in hamburgers, Anne. BPI also slimes retail ground beef, low-fat hotdogs, taco meats, lunch meats, chili, beef stick snacks, sausages, pepperoni, and other encased meats, retail frozen entrees, meatballs, fabricated roast beef, and canned foods. Pink slime, it seems, is everywhere.

Here are some tips to help you make sure the beef in your burger is the kind you actually want to eat:

  1. Make your own ground beef from chuck roast — it’s easier than it sounds. In How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman shows us how: “Buy a chuck roast, cut it into small cubes about an inch square, and pulse a small batch (about 1/2 pound) at a time in a food processor. Make sure you don’t pulverize the meat and it’ll be wonderful.”
  2. Look for grass-fed beef from the nation’s grass-fed producers.
  3. Know your producer. Only buy meat from local farmer’s markets and butchers. You can search for more trustworthy suppliers near you in the Eat Well Guide and Local Harvest.
  4. Consider joining a Meat CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
  5. Eat less meat. In the U.S., we eat a 1/2 pound of meat per day. That’s far more beef than is healthy or sustainable. Try a meatless recipe for meat lovers.

That’s my time on slime, Anne. Go forth and burger!


Q. Dear Umbra,

Just read your answer about sustainable cat litter. I use a biodegradable litter that works really well. The box says it’s flushable, but you mentioned not flushing due to toxoplasmosis in cat waste. If I flush the clumps, am I contributing to toxoplasmosis in the water?

Syracuse, NY

A. Dearest Coleen,

Pooping catPuss in Poops. Photo courtesy trainedcat via FlicrkThank you for your conscientious kitty litter flushing question. You’re not the only reader who wrote in about this toilet topic. Some, like you, were concerned about flushing the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, because it has been reported to kill sea mammals. (Which makes me wonder why we dump our sewer water into the sea? But that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) Other cat lovers wrote to point out that toxoplasmosis is not a concern for indoor cats.

I’m flushed at these oversights! The good new is you can flush kitty litter if your cat is an indoor cat. And, if you want to, I also support teaching your indoor cat how to use the toilet, as long as you don’t teach him or her how to flush. Cat’s love to waste water.

It’s important to note cats who go outdoors are a different story. Cats get toxoplasmosis when they eat mice and birds and other small animals that are infected with the disease. Cats can also contract toxoplasmosis by coming into contact with an infected cat’s feces. That’s a good reason to keep your feline friend indoors — and outdoor cats away from your kitty’s litter.

If you’re not sure whether Mr. or Ms. Indoor Cat is toxoplasmosis-free, you can ask your vet to do a screening test. According to the Centers for Disease Control, you can protect against toxoplasmosis by:

  • Feeding your cat commercial dry or canned food.
  • Never feeding your cat raw meat because this can be a source of toxoplasma infection.
  • Keeping indoor cats indoors.

This correction has been made to last week’s kitty litter column. Thanks to all the indoor cat owners who caught it. If you’d like to lea
rn more about toxoplasmosis in cats, check out this CDC information sheet.