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We learned there IS "pink slime" in our hamburger meat. Now what?

Question:

My customers have been asking whether our burgers contain "pink slime." I couldn't tell and asked the manufacturer. Our purveyor finally told me that they do in fact contain it. What now?

– Abby Singh, Owner/Manager, Canteen 900, Forty Fort, PA

Answer:

“Pink slime” has been all over the news and social networks lately, which means it is on guests’ minds as soon as they think of ground beef. Videos of its production and petitions to ban the substance from school lunches are circulating the web. Television newscasts are running investigative reports into its safety. Technically called “lean finely textured beef,” (LFTB) which may sound more appealing, pink slime is comprised of bits of beef that have been centrifuged off of trim, gassed with ammonium hydroxide as an antibacterial, and then compressed for use, most often as a mixer or filler in ground beef.

Probably most unsettling to conscientious consumers is that there are no labeling requirements for LFTB, which is why it was so difficult for you to learn of its presence in your hamburger patties. By some estimates, the product is used in over 70 percent of ground beef, so you’re in good company.

If your guests are asking about pink slime, it is clearly a concern to them. Industry is responding quickly to consumer concerns by reformulating products and trumpeting the absence of LFTB. Some LFTB manufacturers are succumbing to the financial pain of this attention and others are fighting back with counter-education.

In terms of how to handle this, first, don’t lie. If your current product contains LFTB and a guest asks, you have an ethical obligation to disclose the ingredients. But if you sense this will be a widespread concern, your distributor should be able to direct you to a product made from 100% ground beef with no LFTB to be able to provide the answer that your guests want to hear. Another option would be to use this opportunity to raise the quality of your hamburger and other ground beef offerings. For instance, you may now have a market for a premium house-ground burger that you didn’t have in the past. Will your guests now pay more for beef that they know contains no pink slime?

While guests will always be concerned with food safety, I suspect that in a few weeks you will have fewer guests inquiring about pink slime as their focus shifts to something new. More about the sudden explosion of pink slime interest here.

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