Minnesota Health Official: Man’s Death Likely Caused by Tainted LFTB

The New York Daily News reported over the weekend on a lawsuit which alleges that the death of a 62-year-old Minnesota man was caused by the consumption of lean, finely textured beef (aka “LFTB,” and more commonly known as “pink slime”) tainted with E coli.  The lawsuit was filed on January 8th by Marler Clark, one of the nation’s leading law firms for cases relating to food borne illnesses.

Throughout the “pink slime” controversy this past spring, Beef Products Inc., the company which manufactures LFTB, vigorously defended the safety of its product.  According to the company, its ammonium hydroxide processing method is sufficient to kill potentially deadly bacteria in the raw material it receives from beef processors, raw material which is more likely than other parts of the cow to have come into contact with feces during the butchering process.

However, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2009 New York Times exposé, federal testing between 2005-2009 found that ground beef containing LFTB was four times more likely to contain salmonella than regular ground meat.  The facts of this case also took place during this time period, with the plaintiff’s consumption of the allegedly tainted beef taking place at the end of 2009, and his death occurring in early January, 2010.

The lawsuit alleges that tainted beef trim from JBS Swift & Company was sent to BPI for processing but the resulting LFTB still contained E coli when mixed by Tyson Foods, Inc. into ground beef  consumed by the plaintiff.  According to Marler Clark, this chain of distribution was determined through an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service; a chart prepared by Marler Clark illustrating the chain of distribution may be found here and is more fully described here.

The Minnesota Department of Health seems to feel there is a definitive link between BPI’s product and the plaintiff’s death, with a department representative quoted in the Daily News story as saying:

Is it likely that their product has ever made people sick, absolutely. . .  Is it likely that BPI’s product was a source of this illness, absolutely.

It’s important to note that in more recent years BPI has reportedly improved its pathogen testing protocols, a development which I and others have lauded.   However, based on my reading of the complaint and the Daily News story, it is unclear to me whether BPIs testing methods for the particular strain of E coli which allegedly killed the plaintiff in this case have changed since the new protocols were instituted.

The full New York Daily News story, written by David Knowles, may be found here.

 

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NEW PHOTO: Lean Finely Textured Beef, From A Different Point of View

I want to share with you a photo sent to me by an anonymous source.

Here’s a photo of Lean Textured Beef (aka “pink slime”) that’s been widely circulated in recent days by the product’s manufacturer, Beef Products Inc.

photo source: Beef Products Inc.

This is a photo of Lean Textured Beef as it purportedly appears in BPI’s plant.  I was told this batch was being held for pathogen testing:

If you’ve watched the film Food Inc., you’ve already seen LFTB in this grayer, block form, and if you don’t mind the unlabeled inclusion of the filler in your burger, the above photo is unlikely to change your mind.  But the two pictures are qualitatively different enough that I felt it was worth comparing the two side by side.

In my opinion, neither looks much like what most consumers think of as “100% ground beef” — i.e., ground chuck or ground round:

 

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Dozens in Congress Support Total Ban On Pink Slime in School Food, Plus News on Labeling Legislation

I spoke this morning with Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s office and was pleased to learn that she has now submitted her sign-on letter to USDA with the signatures of 41 Congressional representatives, all of whom support the request expressed in our Change.org petition that USDA ban all use of Lean Beef Trimmings, aka “pink slime” in ground beef destined for the National School Lunch Program.

In submitting this letter to USDA, Rep. Pingree recognizes, as we do, that USDA’s offer of a choice to schools — while a remarkable victory for our campaign — may not be a viable solution for all districts.

I was also advised that Rep. Pingree intends to introduce a bill in Congress requiring that LBT be labeled on supermarket ground beef, a move clearly supported by consumers across the country whose outcry about the cheap filler has recently led one major grocery chain after another to agree to cease all use of the product.

Thank you, Rep. Chellie Pingree!

I’ll keep readers posted of any new developments on either front as I learn of them.

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Kroger, Stop & Shop To Cease Selling Ground Beef with Pink Slime

In a dramatic reversal from the position it expressed in last night’s ABC World News with Diane Sawyer report, Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, has agreed to cease selling any ground beef with Lean Beef Trimmings, better known as “pink slime.”   The Stop & Shop chain made the same announcement, and both companies join the ever-growing list of major retailers which either never sold beef with LBT or have recently agreed not to do so — Costco, Whole Foods, Safeway, A&P, Food Lion, and Supervalu.

You can read more at the Los Angeles Times, among other media outlets.

 

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New York Public Schools, More Supermarkets To Cease Use of LBT (Plus TLT on ABC!)

Last night I was interviewed for the lead story on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, in which Senior National Correspondent Jim Avila reported that several major grocery chains will discontinue the sale of ground beef containing Lean Beef Trimmings.

diane sawyerThe chains include Safeway (the country’s second largest, after Kroger), Food Lion and Supervalu (the third largest, operating Acme, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher’s, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw’s/Star Market, Shop ‘n Save and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy).  Walmart and Sam’s Club stores will begin offering beef without LBT, while Kroger has issued a statement regarding which of its ground beef offerings are free of LBT and will provide this information to its meat departments.

Here’s more on the story from ABC’s website, and you can see the actual Diane Sawyer video here.  (But don’t blink or you’ll miss me!  :-)  )

Meanwhile, the other huge headline yesterday is that New York City schools will no longer offer meat with LBT to students, as of next fall.  In making this decision, NYC schools follow the lead of Boston, Memphis and Miami-Dade, along with districts which never used LBT or which ceased using it long before our Change.org petition was launched —  including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and my own district, Houston.

So if USDA’s response to our petition was less than 100% satisfactory, it’s clear that local grassroots efforts around the country are making up for any deficiencies in the outcome.   Parents and other consumers are voicing loud opposition to the unlabeled use of Lean Beef Trimmings in ground beef, and schools and stores around the country are obviously listening and changing their practices.

It’s a truly remarkable outcome, and all the more so when you recall that our petition was launched on The Lunch Tray only sixteen days ago today.

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Pink Slime: Controversy Drives Down Prices for Beef Trim, Safeway Discontinues Its Use, and More

This morning I woke up and said, today is the end of daily pink slime reporting on The Lunch Tray!  And then a few items came to my attention that seemed worth sharing with you, given the commitment of TLT readers to the Change.org petition and the issue generally.  So here’s this morning’s round-up:

Lean Beef and Trim Prices Impacted By Petition and Media

Two sources provided me today with an article in Meatingplace, a meat industry publication, regarding the impact of the LBT controversy on meat prices.  The publication requires membership for access, but it reads in part:

Increased cattle carcass weights — brought on by a warm winter — is bringing fatter cattle to market, which doesn’t mean more steaks so much as it means more beef trim.

That, along with reduced demand for lean finely textured beef (LFTB) due to the media storm and its new “pink slime” nickname, is lowering trim prices . . . .

. . . . With less demand for LFTB, it is likely that packers have had to change some of their trim practices  . . . . As a result, we are now seeing significant premiums paid for lean and extra lean product (generally from cows) and discounts for fat.

Safeway Discontinues Use of LBT in Ground Beef

This is huge news.  In response to overwhelming consumer demand, Safeway has announced that it will stop selling beef containing LBT.  Says Jim Avila of ABC News:

Safeway has 1400 stores coast to coast,  second only to Kroger. The chain now joins Publix, HEB, Whole Foods and Costco promising their ground beef is additive free.

Local Efforts Spring Up Around LBT, Grocery Stores and Schools

Now that USDA has left the choice to use LBT up to each school district, and because individual grocery chains have always had the ability to chose to sell meat with or without it, it’s been interesting to see that local efforts are starting to spring up to influence these potential LBT purchasers.

For example, a consumer activist group in Pennsylvania is circulating a petition to ask Giant stores to label beef with LBT.  Meanwhile, Avaaz.org, a social action website, is urging members to circulate local petitions to influence their school districts on the issue.  (I did note, though, that an email to Avaaz members announcing the effort contained a fair amount of misinformation about LBT which could undercut that campaign.)

Petition Nears a Quarter Million

Finally, thanks to the launch of Stop Pink Slime.org by Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution Team, the Change.org petition started here on The Lunch Tray a mere 15 days ago is now getting hovering near a quarter million signatures.  Current count:  a little over 244,000.

Amazing.

 

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Let’s Not Give In to Beef Industry “Slimewashing”

The beef industry is pushing back hard in the last few days against opposition to Lean Beef Trimmings, better known as “pink slime.”  Yesterday the American Meat Institute released this video:

There is also a new message in beef industry communications, expressly raised in the Food Safety News piece by Nancy Donley (mother of a child who tragically died of E. coli), that those who oppose LBT are somehow standing in the way of food safety that protects all of us.  In the words of  MeatPoultry.com, a meat industry trade publication, opponents to LBT could cause

“the use of an effective food safety tool being reduced” and “other companies researching new food safety technologies or programs [to] curtail their efforts after observing the challenges Beef Products has faced in the wake of the negative publicity.

But to oppose LBT is not to oppose reasonable food safety measures.

No doubt some consumers do fear the use of ammonium-hydroxide to process their food, but nothing in the wording of my Change.org petition or my writing or speaking about this issue has ever once sought to confuse the public by associating this chemical with the cleaning agent you keep under your sink.  Rather, those who have read about how LBT is made are likely to feel gratitude that an agent like ammonium hydroxide is used, given how naturally pathogenic the raw material used to make the product — i.e.,  slaughterhouse scraps that are likely to be contaminated by cow excrement.

It is my belief that the majority consumers who oppose LBT in their beef are not irrational victims of fear-mongering.  Rather, they’re simply mad that a cheap filler — up to 15% — has been surreptitiously mixed into what they thought was 100% ground chuck or ground round.   And this tampering is not without consequence.  Yesterday I told you how JM Hirsch, Associated Press’s food editor, found that the taste and texture of beef with LBT was substantially different than true “100% ground beef.”  And a former USDA microbiologist has argued that the proteins in LBT are inferior nutritionally.  The consumer is being harmed in a very real way by USDA’s decision not to label this stuff on packaging.

So let’s not give in to beef industry “slimewashing.”  Please contact your Congressional representatives and ask them to sign on to the letter being circulated  by Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, which demands that this stuff be taken out of USDA beef destined for schools and that it be labeled in supermarkets.

These are reasonable requests which have nothing to do with opposing food safety measures, and it is simply wrong for the beef industry to portray our efforts otherwise.

[Hat tip and thanks to my online colleague Nancy Huehnergarth of NYSHEPA for coining the excellent term, “slimewashing.” ]

 

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Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Supports Our Petition With Pink Slime Website!

I am SO pleased to announce that Jamie Oliver and his Food Revolution team have thrown their support behind our Change.org petition:

stop pink slime

Please go check out their new website, Stop Pink Slime.org– you’ll see a prominent link to the petition, information about Lean Beef Trimmings, plus endorsements from supporting organizations and individuals.

THANK YOU, Food Revolution!

And maybe with Jamie’s help we can push the current signature count (near 237K) over the one-quarter million mark — or even beyond!

 

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Congresswoman Pingree Champions Complete Ban on Pink Slime in USDA School Beef

As you know, our Change.org petition to get pink slime out of the beef provided by USDA for school meals led to a USDA change in policy within a mere nine days.  For the first time, USDA is offering schools a choice of pre-made patties which contain Lean Beef Trimmings, and bulk beef without it.

That was an extraordinary result and showed dramatically the power of grassroots organizing.  However, in her excellent reporting on this issue, NYSHEPA’s Nancy Huehnergarth explains why this “choice” may be meaningless for many districts, especially the most cash-strapped.

That’s why I am so pleased to report that Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine is now circulating a “sign-on” letter in Congress which takes USDA to task for its rather hollow “solution” and urges a complete ban on the purchasing of LBT beef for use in school food.   Here’s the text of her letter:

Dear Colleague:

By now you have seen and heard about the outcry from parents and students around the country to ban ‘finely textured lean beef trimmings’ or more commonly ‘pink slime’ from school lunches.

The USDA recently announced that they would allow school districts to ‘opt out’ of purchasing beef containing pink slime. This move will create a two-tier school lunch program, forcing less affluent school districts to purchase the less expensive, pink slime beef.

Please join me in urging Secretary Vilsack to end the purchasing of pink slime for school food. If you have any questions, or would like to sign on, please contact Claire Benjamin (claire.benjamin@mail.house.gov or 5-6116).

Sincerely,

Chellie Pingree
Member of Congress

THANK YOU, Rep. Pingree for this effort.

I will keep you posted here on the progress of the sign-on letter.

 

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Pink Slime: New Congressional Support, Latest News, and a Taste Test

I’m back from New York where I taped two media appearances relating to Lean Beef Trimmings, aka, pink slime.  I’ll  share the shows and air dates with you as soon as I’m allowed to by the producers.   And at some point this week – maybe even tomorrow – I want to resume posting about other topics here on the blog.  (I don’t know about you, but I am really ready for a slime break.)

But for now, here’s a round-up of important news and links:

Another Senator Joins the Fight

I was so pleased to get an email this weekend from New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office sharing her letter to USDA in support of removing meat containing LBT from school meals.  She joins New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez and Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree in sending letters to the agency.  THANK YOU, Senator Gillibrand!  [Ed Update:  Be sure to also read this Lunch Tray post about Rep. Pingree’s “sign-on” letter now going through Congress.]

My Op-Ed in the Houston Chronicle

On Sunday, the Houston Chronicle ran my opinion piece about pink slime, the content of which will be somewhat familiar to Lunch Tray readers as I’ve advanced many of the same arguments here.  I was also surprised and gratified to see the paper print its own editorial the same day praising our Change.org petition and advocating package labeling for ground beef containing the substance.

Why Pink Slime Might Be the Least of Our Worries

Writer Tom Laskawy has a great piece in Grist this morning about how pink slime is really just representative of much larger problems in the meat industry, and he lists some other “processing aids” (besides the now-infamous ammonium hydroxide) lurking in your meat.

NPR Reads My Correction Aloud on The Air

I want to thank NPR for immediately rectifying the misrepresentation in reporter Allison Aubrey’s March 15th report on pink slime which stated that on The Lunch Tray I compared ammonium hydroxide, used to kill pathogens in pink slime, with a cleaning agent.  A portion of my letter was read aloud by Melissa Block on All Things Considered the next day.

More on School and Parent Reactions

Dana Woldow of PEACHSF had an interesting piece in Beyond Chron last week about reactions in San Francisco to pink slime in school food.  Meanwhile, Boston is banning the substance from school food entirely.  And many other school districts have also either confirmed they don’t use the product or have promised they won’t in the future – far too many links to share here.

Pink Slime Put to the (Taste) Test

And now for a lighter pink slime item . . .

Beef Products Inc. says on its website that

In study after study, taste panel after taste panel, consumers have consistently shown a preference for ground meat and other products made from BPI ingredients.  A taste panel conducted on our behalf by South Dakota State University confirms why our lean beef is a preferred ground beef ingredient.

So last week, J.M. Hirsch (Associated Press Food Editor and TLT friend) decided to do his own unscientific taste test between ground beef containing pink slime and an organic, slime-free version.  His verdict on the pink slime burger:

. . .  no juices collected on the plate. Or dribbled out. Or were apparent in the meat in really any way. The taste was — OK. I took another taste of the first burger, then back to the pink slime burger.

It was not bad. But nor was it good. It was flat. I added more salt. No. It was simply one-dimensional.

And then there was the texture. Unpleasantly chewy bits of what I can only describe as gristle, though they were not visible, seemed to stud the meat of the pink slime burger. The result was a mealy chew that, while not overtly unpleasant, didn’t leave me wanting another bite.

Thanks to J.M. for his courageous field work on our behalf.

But, honestly, J.M., you just won’t be in my taste-testing league . . . until you’ve bellied up to the Candwich.

 

 

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Pink Slime Watch: Four Days, 25,000 Signatures

Hi all –

In almost two years of blogging on The Lunch Tray,  I’ve never posted on a Saturday.  But I thought it was worth updating you on the progress of our petition seeking to end the use of Beef Products Inc.’s Lean Beef Trimmings (aka “pink slime”) in the National School Lunch Program.  As of this morning, just four days after I started the petition, we passed the 25,000 mark — and the number continues to climb.

“Pink slime” so dominated the news yesterday that it was one of the top Google searches and also trended on Twitter.   And though for a time I was keeping track here of media coverage of the petition, there are now far too many sites to list.  I’ve also been asked to write an op-ed piece about this issue for the Houston Chronicle which should appear in the coming days.  I’ll post a link when I have it.

Meanwhile, both USDA and Beef Products Inc. felt the need to issue statements about Lean Beef Trimmings (here and here) and there have also been some inevitable backlash pieces asking if the pink slime “panic” is justified.  You can read those and decide what you think.

Looking to the week ahead, I really want to resume my normal kid-and-food blogging (you can imagine my backlog of posts!) but I hope to set up some kind of widget on the blog to click for the latest signature count.  [Ed. Update:  It’s now over to your right in the big pink (of course) box.]  TLT’s Facebook page is also a good source for up-to-the-minute news about this petition, as well as just a nice place to hang out with other readers and chat about this and any other issue discussed here on the blog.

I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support this past week, and for your patience as I struggled stay on top of comments both here and on the Facebook page.  I’ve been absolutely astonished at the response to my petition and remain hopeful that our voices are being heard at USDA.

Thanks, all, and enjoy your weekend!  :-)

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More on “Pink Slime” in School Food: a Correction, a Clarification and a Big Thank You!

I wanted to update TLT readers on the progress of the petition I launched yesterday to end the use of “pink slime” in the ground beef purchased for the National School Lunch Program.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve never started a Change.org petition before and I didn’t even fully understand how the process worked.  I only added the link to my post as a quick afterthought, just one more way to express my outrage at USDA’s practices, and then I left the house and went about my day.

So you can imagine my shock when I got home and saw 600 signatures on the petition.  And when I woke up this morning, the number was near 1,500!

Meanwhile, David Knowles, the writer at The Daily who originally reported on USDA’s continued use of pink slime in school food, interviewed me yesterday about the petition.   (I’ll share his story when it’s up.)  Here is that story.  He also told me that, as a result of his interviews with USDA on this topic, our petition is now “on USDA’s radar!”  Woo hoo!

And the folks at Change.org itself noticed all the activity generated by the petition and are scheduled to speak with me later this morning.  I believe they are going to provide additional help to draw attention to the petition.  Double woo hoo!

So first, I just wanted to say THANK YOU to the Lunch Tray community for all you’ve done to get the word out, and to ask that you please take a minute (if you haven’t already done so) to keep up this incredible momentum by sharing the petition with your email contacts, your Facebook friends and/or your Twitter followers.

Could we actually bring about real change here???

Now for the correction and the clarification.

Incorrect Photo of Slime

As noted above, I created my petition as a quick afterthought before leaving the house and in my haste to find a suitable photo for it I simply Googled images for “pink slime.”  When this photo came up . . .

Pink and slimy, but NOT Pink Slime!

. . . I knew I’d seen it before (on Fooducate, back in ’09) and I erroneously recalled that it was the same pink slime in question.  (It certainly is “pink” and “slimy,” no?)

But as a few readers informed me yesterday, that pink slime is actually mechanically separated chicken (the sort used in some nuggets) and not the beef by-product we’ve been talking about.  I believe the “Lean Beef Trimmings” we’re talking about  look like this.  I took down the incorrect photo yesterday and sincerely apologize for any confusion I may have caused.

Meanwhile, how scary is it that there are two types of slimy pink meat goo in our food supply?

Clarification on Slime “Purchase”

In his original post on The Daily, David Knowles reported that “USDA . . . plans to buy 7 million pounds of Lean Beef Trimmings from BPI in the coming months for the national school lunch program,” and I and other media outlets shared the same information, i.e., that a purchase of slime per se was in the works.  But David has since been informed by USDA that the agency is not purchasing slime itself, but instead purchasing ground beef from processors which use pink slime, and the entire ground beef purchase will collectively contain 7 million pounds of the substance.

It’s a point worth clarifying (and I’ve updated the petition to reflect it), but keep in mind that the end result is exactly the same: 7 million pounds of ammonia hydroxide-treated beef scraps and connective tissue, formerly used only as pet food and for rendering, being fed to our kids.

Let’s put a stop to it once and for all!

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 2,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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