Q: How do you see the recent attention given to lean finely textured beef?
A: I enjoy and appreciate beef in a meal as often as possible, and I have confidence in this meat product, which comes from a process that separates fatty pieces from beef trimmings to reduce the overall fat content. There’s nothing wrong with using all of the edible trimmings of an animal. Lean finely textured beef is beef, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects and regulates all beef products. It has approved this product for ground beef since 1993.
Q: What about the processing of this beef?
A: The technology used for lean finely textured beef makes it possible to use beef that could not have been captured by hand trimming. The edible trimmings left after other cuts of meat, including steaks and roasts, are removed from an animal and processed to separate the lean meat from the fat. Then, an antimicrobial treatment is used to make sure the resulting lean beef product is safe to eat.
Q: Is the antimicrobial treatment safe?
A: Ammonium hydroxide – or ammonium combined with water – is used in food processing, including baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, caramel, puddings and meat products. The Food and Drug Administration determined that ammonium hydroxide was “Generally Recognized As Safe,” or GRAS, in 1974. The World Health Organization has listed hundreds of food products that can be processed using ammonium hydroxide in accordance with good manufacturing practices. In the case of lean finely textured beef, an ammonium hydroxide gas controls dangerous forms of pathogens like E. coli.
Q: What else is relevant to food safety?
A: I’m committed to sound science practices that separate fact from fiction in food safety. Consumers deserve it, and the consequences of misinformation and hype in March over lean finely textured beef were the layoffs of hundreds of people working for the company that produces most of this beef, including workers in Waterloo and Sioux City. Without lean finely textured beef, as many as 1.5 million additional head of cattle could be needed to replace it in the meat supply, and the cost of ground beef for consumers would be higher.