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The ugly truth behind ground beef

I hope you’re not having hamburger tonight…because this story might change your dinner plans.

One of the key suppliers of hamburger “meat” is coming under fire…as tests show a disturbing number of E. coli and salmonella pathogens, according to a disturbing report in the New York Times.

Want to know why I put “meat” in quotes?

Are you sure?

In an ideal world, a butcher runs a piece of steak through a grinder, and you get hamburger. That’s how I get mine, and if that’s how you get yours then you’ve got nothing to fear.

But fast food, supermarket and even school lunch burgers are made differently. They use “meat” from different sources, like trimmings.

Trimmings are scraps of fatty pieces left over in the slaughterhouse after all the good cuts of meat have been taken. Believe me, I love beef — the fattier, the better. But this is awful garbage that I wouldn’t touch.

Once upon a time, this stuff was destined for pet food. Today, it’s added to burgers from coast to coast, thanks largely to a company called Beef Products Inc.

The company developed a technique that liquefies the trimmings, runs them through a centrifuge to separate the fat from the protein, then injects it with ammonia in an attempt to kill pathogens.

Then it’s turned into blocks and chips that are used to beef up hamburgers. The company sells 7 million pounds of it every week, and school lunch burgers are now 15 percent trimmings.

Did I mention that it’s really, really cheap? It better be — after all, it was practically worthless when they found it on the slaughterhouse floor.

The Times found one message from a USDA microbiologist who called this junk “pink slime” and wrote, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”

Naturally, he was ignored. So were the other microbiologists who were disgusted by this process.

Instead, the USDA approved this technique and then decided it was so foolproof that they could leave the company in charge of its own testing.

You can see where this is going now, right?

The Times investigation found a disturbing pattern of E. coli and salmonella contamination…one that could force changes on the system — someday.

But as of now, “pink slime” is still in your burgers — and it’s probably here to stay.

The lesson here is to avoid all factory meat. Buy only meat from grass-fed cows from a quality butcher or small farm — and only eat hamburger when you can see a fresh cut of beef go into the grinder yourself.

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