Anyone who read last December’s New York Times report on beef processing might understandably shudder when watching a child eat a hamburger in a public school lunch room.
That article reported on Beef Products, Inc., a beef processing plant in South Dakota which came up with a method of injecting a mixture of cooking oil and fatty beef trimmings with ammonia (I’m hungry already) to remove E. coli and salmonella. According to the Times, last year an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the ammonia-treated beef was used in the National School Lunch Program, in part because — big surprise — it’s cheaper than other ground beef. However, records obtained by the Times showed that the ammonia process, which had been approved by the FDA, did not reliably eliminate the dangerous bacteria.
Perhaps in response to the findings in the Times report, last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced tougher new standards for the ground beef that will be used in the National School Lunch Program, among other federal food programs. You can read the full press release here. Among the new standards are more stringent testing for E. coli and other bacteria as well as a planned review of the beef purchasing system by the National Academy of Sciences.
All things considered, though, I’d still rather have my child order a cheeseburger — extra cheese and hold the meat.