The term “mystery meat” has new meaning in the wake of the USDA’s announcement that it will buy 7 million pounds of beef byproducts to be used as filler in the ground beef served in the federal school lunch program. The USDA calls these byproducts “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB), but critics including chef-advocate Jamie Oliver have far less appetizing name for the stuff:  “pink slime.”

Pink slime is a mash of anything and everything that’s left after a cow is butchered, including cartilage, connective tissue, and low-grade beef trimmings.  These bits get washed in ammonium hydroxide, which kills bacteria and gives them a rosy hue. Then they are liquefied, frozen, cut into cubes, and shipped off to meat processors where they are mixed it into ground beef, ground pork, and veal.

Is pink slime is safe to eat?  Officially, yes, since it has USDA’s GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) approval. Is it in many of the ground meat products we eat?  By some estimates about 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets contains pink slime, although it’s hard to tell because beef byproducts are not listed on food labels. Several major fast food chains say they no longer use beef trimmings as filler, and uneasy consumers can steer clear of them, too.

1. Buy meat that is stamped USDA Organic,  which guarantees it’s pure meat with no filler

2. Find local butchers who grind their own meat

More On This...

3. Instead of ground beef choose lean cuts of beef such as sirloin, filet and tenderloin

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website Ffactor.com.