Friday, March 9, 2012

Burger, Anyone?

I love a good hamburger.  I'm far from alone, when it comes to affection for the hamburger.  According to Health News at, "Americans eat about 13 billion hamburgers a year."  Perhaps one reason for the popularity of the hamburger, is its virtually limitless capacity for diversity.

Eaters can have their burgers; fried, broiled, or grilled; to any level of doneness from rare to charred black (as long as it reaches a minimum internal temperature of 160°F as measured with a food thermometer), topped with a vast variety of things including; Ketchup, Mustard, Mayonnaise, Aioli, Pesto, Horseradish Sauce, Ranch Dressing, Salsa, Chutney, Spicy Cheese Sauce, BBQ Sauce, Guacamole, Lettuce, Tomato, Pickles, Onions, Spinach, Sautéed Mushrooms, Green Chilies, Relish, Avocado Slices, Jalapeños, Fried Bacon, Canadian Bacon, Prosciutto, Ham, Chili, just about any Cheese on the market, and/or a number other goodies I've never thought of; and served on almost any kind of; Bread, Bun, Tortilla, or Roll; imaginable.   This doesn't even take into account the array of flavor enhancers; Salt & Pepper, Spice Rubs, Hot Sauces, Dried Onion Soup Mix, etc...; one can add to the meat itself while it cooks.  Given its versatility, it makes sense that the hamburger would be lovingly adopted by a nation, who's citizens value their unique individuality.

 Grilled to perfection, placed on a Kaiser Roll, and topped with; mayo, ketchup, blue cheese, and pickled slices of jalapeño peppers; is my favorite version of the classic America sandwich.  I was enjoying this delicacy, and watching the news, when Diane Sawyer delivered a story, just as if she'd known what I was having for supper.

A story by ABC News claims, 70% of ground beef, sold at supermarkets, contains "pink slime."  Beef trimmings, once only used in dog food and cooking oil, are now sprayed with ammonia, to make them safe to eat, then added to retail sold ground beef as a cheap filler.

The filler is made by gathering waste scraps, cooking them at low heat to separate the fat from the muscle, and using a centrifuge to complete the separation.  Then, the mixture is piped to a spraying room where its coated with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. The product is finally pressed into Play-Doh-esc bricks, frozen, and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it's added to ground beef.  These trimmings were first called “pink slime” by USDA scientist, Gerald Zirnstein, in a memo recommending labeling requirements when the product is present in ground beef.  However, the USDA determined that, since the trimmings come from beef, additional labeling isn't warranted.

My initial thoughts, upon hearing the report, were flooded with Upton Sinclair induced images of disease ridden sausage factories and meat packing plants.  The thought of ammonia soaked goo in my meat made me nauseous.  Once my initial revulsion subsided though, I felt like a moral fraud was being perpetrated on the buying public, but I was foggy when it came to the concrete downside.

My question was answered the next night, when ABC News aired a follow-up story.  In the segment Kit Foshee, who was a corporate quality assurance manager at Beef Products Inc. (the company that makes pink slime), explained that, because it's primarily made from connective tissue, pink slime is filling, but has no nutritional value.  Thus, the ingestion of this filler literally robs the eater's body of vitamins and other nutrients, which they'd intended to consume.

So, how can eaters avoid pink slime?   Well, there are a few simple ways to make sure you're avoiding this filler.  Perhaps the easiest way is to buy whole cuts of meat and grind them yourself.  Of course, unless you have Ina Garten's budget, this can get expensive.

Another way is to look for terms such as 100% ground chuck or 100% ground sirloin.  These are legally binding statements, which are meant to ensure consumers that ALL the meat in the package is from that specific part of the animal.  Similarly, if a package of meat is stamped USDA Organic, it must, by law, be pure meat with no filler.

Laws aside though, nothing beats knowing the place where you shop.  ABC News emailed the top 10 grocery chains in America. Only Publix (in the Southeastern U.S.), HEB (the Texas based grocer), and national chains; Costco and Whole Foods; responded, saying they don’t use pink slime.

Being an Oregonian, I visited my local New Seasons Market (an Oregon based grocery chain, similar to Whole Foods) this morning, and asked their butcher, point blank, if there are any fillers in their ground beef?  His face instantly told me I'd been the forty-jillionth person to ask the question since the story hit the air.   Nevertheless, he politely explained they grind their beef on the premises, to ensure that no connective tissue or other fillers are added to the meat.

Thus, my best advice is not to be shy, and to have this exact conversation with the butcher at your local grocery store.  Seriously, if you get a, *shrug,* "Gee, I don't know," run like the wind.  They only won't know what's in the ground beef if they're buying it pre-ground, and pre-ground beef carries with it a 70% (7 out of 10) chance of containing the ammonia drenched non-nutritious pink slime.  It may cost you some shoe leather, but finding a meat counter you can trust is, by far, your best bet.


  1. Great post James. New Season's market sounds wonderful. I think the pink slime has a whole lotta folks in an uproar. :)

  2. The pink slime story has really had people going crazy. It's about time people knew what was in their food. The problem is sometimes they know, but insist on consuming it anyway, then get pissed about the consequences later. You gave some great advice. You're right about asking the butcher, and if they shrug, find another butcher. Have a good one James =]

  3. good post James i love to read your blog
    Cool Drinks for Summer

  4. i want more post from u
    Happy Mothers Day