Cedar Rapids Schools Considering USDA Beef Alternatives

By Patrick Hogan, Reporter

A hamburger made from ground beef containing what is derisively referred to as "pink slime," or what the meat industry calls "lean, finely textured beef," is ready for tasting Thursday, March 15, 2012 in Concord, N.H. Under a change announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, districts that get food through the government's school lunch program will be allowed to say no to ground beef containing the ammonia-treated filler and choose filler-free meat instead. The low-cost filler is made from fatty meat scraps that are heated to remove most of the fat, then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

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By Kara Kelly

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — It’s too early to tell whether Cedar Rapids schools will use alternatives offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to its current beef selection.

The new offerings will not include a type of ground meat known as “lean, highly-textured beef” made up of beef trimmings that uses ammonium hydroxide as an anti-microbial agent. The term “pink slime,” first used by USDA whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein, has been used to describe this kind of meat.

The USDA continues to affirm the meat is safe for consumption, but will offer the alternative beef due to concerns some schools have regarding the use of ammonia.

Details on the alternatives have not been released.

Cedar Rapids gets its beef through the USDA lunch program, which consists of 6.5 percent of the lean, highly-textured beef, according to Suzy Ketelson, director of the district’s food services. She has been generally satisfied with the meat offered by the federal department over the years.

“We have a choice, but for years we’ve used and taken advantage of very high quality products from the USDA,” she said.

School districts in the USDA lunch program rely on the department to inspect and certify that their food is safe for consumption, so Ketelson trusts the USDA when they say that lean, highly-textured beef does not present a health risk.

She will be researching the alternatives the department is planning to offer, but said there are too many unknowns to determine whether or not Cedar Rapids will opt-in yet.

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