Stores say no more ‘pink slime’ in meat cases

April 3, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Questions about ground beef fly more often across the counter at Fischer Meats since the issue of “lean finely textured beef” — more recognizable by the headline-grabbing nickname “pink slime” — captured the media zeitgeist late last month.

“I’ve probably had a half a dozen people that have mentioned it and said, ‘We’ll never buy ground beef in the grocery store again because of that,” owner Chris Chiechi said April 2. “We have been selling a little more ground beef in the last month. I wouldn’t call it a huge impact.”

Fischer Meats does not use the additive.

The product is made from beef trimmings treated in ammonium hydroxide to eliminate pathogens. The additive is used in ground beef and beef-based products.

Though beef industry executives and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack declared the product safe to eat, the ick factor — images purported to show lean finely textured beef instead resembled pink toothpaste — spooked consumers.

The term “pink slime” comes from a U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service microbiologist.

Issaquah-based Costco does not use “pink slime” in products offered at the largest warehouse club chain in the United States.

“We run a very high-quality, two-component ground beef. We have lean and fat that make up our ground beef,” Craig Wilson, Costco vice president of food safety and quality assurance, said April 2.

“There are no spices, nothing. We’ve just never added a third component, being LFTB or any of the other things that you could add,” Wilson continued, using the abbreviation for lean finely textured beef.

The major grocery chains operating stores in Issaquah — Fred Meyer, QFC and Safeway — stopped selling the beef product late last month in response to consumer concerns.

The parent company of Fred Meyer and QFC, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., attributed the change to questions from customers about the product.

“Our customers have expressed their concerns that the use of lean finely textured beef — while fully approved by the USDA for safety and quality — is something they do not want in their ground beef,” Fred Meyer spokeswoman Melinda Merrill said in a March 22 statement. “We highly value customer feedback, and the recent flood of news stories has diminished their confidence in the product.”

Fred Meyer is a division based in Portland, Ore. QFC is headquartered in Bellevue.

Fred Meyer operates a store along East Lake Sammamish Parkway Southeast in Issaquah. QFC operates stores along Northwest Gilman Boulevard in Issaquah and at the Klahanie Shopping Center.

Safeway — based in Pleasanton, Calif. — also acted after headlines about “pink slime” prompted consumers to scrutinize labels on ground beef. The chain operates a store along Northwest Gilman Boulevard.

“While the USDA and food industry experts agree that lean, finely textured beef is safe and wholesome, recent news stories have caused considerable consumer concern about this product,” Safeway announced in a March 21 statement. “Safeway will no longer purchase ground beef containing lean, finely textured beef.”

Chiechi said almost all beef sold at Fischer Meats comes from Eastern Washington. The meat is ground at the downtown Issaquah store and owners do not purchase pre-ground beef from other sources.

“We always have people asking about where our beef comes from, whether we grind our own meat,” he said. “That’s a pretty common question for us.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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