FTB off the menu for Eastern Michigan

“Pink slime” has been off the menu for two years, and its close cousin “finely textured beef” (FTB) will be eliminated from orders as of April 9, according to Larry Gates, director of Dining Services and Executive Chef Tom Murray at Eastern Michigan University.

“Pink slime” has been manufactured in a few ways, one using ammonium nitrate and another using citric acid. EMU Dining Services only used the beef treated with citric acid, earning the label of FTB, according to Murray.

To date, Dining Services has purchased 4,000 lbs. of ground beef patties and 1,310 lbs. of loose ground beef containing FTB over the last business year.

Murray explained that after investigating with Gordon Food Services, he found only two products out of 9,000 ordered over an academic year contained FTB.

He said Gordon Food Service would discontinue providing the product as of April 9 and replacement product would be available.

“As consumers, we’re asking questions every day,” Gates said, explaining that from the university’s standpoint, they had to do the same.

The beef product was named “pink slime” by Gerald Zimstein, a
microbiologist formerly with the U.S.D.A. and “reluctant whistleblower,” according to a March 7 ABC News report that raised national interest in the product and sparked a number of large organizations from fast food vendors to local grocers to call into question whether their products included FTB.

Once the reports hit social media sites, public outcry over concern about the product led to a number of retailers and restaurants to pull the product from their shelves.

The fallout has resulted in serious repercussions for the beef industry. Primary producer of the product, Beef Products, Inc. has to date halted production of the “lean finely textured beef” at three of its four processing plants, and has threatened to close down production if demand doesn’t return to normal. AFA Foods, the next-leading producer of the product, filed bankruptcy April 2, citing declining demand for its product.

“We call our providers and see what’s in our ground beef,” Gates said. “We want to see what happens with this.”

“Our backs were against the wall, just like everyone else,” Murray said, responding to the fact that FTB wasn’t required to be labeled as an ingredient on ground beef packaging. “McDonalds, Burger King, they were all using it. We didn’t know it was in there until we looked.”

Murray said he tries to encourage people to eat as little processed food as
possible.

“I urge people to eat like cavemen, to leave out as much processed food as they can,” he said. “Accomplishing whole foods for so many people is hard to do, but we do a great job of getting fresh, healthy foods out there, and we do it sustainably, and locally.”.

As for costs, Murray and Gates seemed unconcerned.

Gates and Murray agree that while they would be hesitant to serve FTB treated beef in their own homes, there might be a trade-off.

When asked if Chef Murray would use FTB-treated ground beef over other options, he considered:

“The reason they did this is to kill the E-Coli, the bacteria,” Murray said. “Would I want my kids to get E.coli? I guess, I would roll the dice on that one.”


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