Questions and Answers About Lean Finely Textured Beef
Unfortunately, recent media reports and so-called “reality” shows have raised concerns about the product without the benefit of facts from those that produce or use it. These questions and answers aim to provide those facts.
What is Lean Finely Textured Beef?
Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) is a key source of the lean meat used to make ground beef. Ground beef is generally made by combining lean beef trimmings with other beef trimmings and grinding them together to make different lean blends that consumers desire (example 90% lean / 10% fat).
The benefit of separating the fat from the lean in the beef trimmings is the ability to make leaner and more affordable ground beef blends; however, this separation has historically been nearly impossible to do by hand. Thirty years ago, the technology was developed to make this possible – state of the art food processing equipment allowed the removal of the fat from the beef trimmings. The finished product from this process is known as Lean Finely Textured Beef or LFTB.
How is Lean Finely Textured Beef Made?
When beef carcasses are portioned the pieces that are cut off (“beef trimmings”) often have lean meat remaining with them. These USDA inspected beef trimmings are refrigerated and sent to LFTB producers. Similar to standard ground beef processes, the trimmings are sent to specialized machinery which removes any connective tissue, cartilage, and other pieces that may incidentally accompany the trimmings. To separate the fat from the lean meat the trimmings are warmed to the temperature they were prior to refrigeration (105°F) using equipment designed to evenly temper the trimmings. The trimmings are then sent to a centrifuge where the fat is removed using centrifugal force. The lean meat which is now 94% to 97% lean, is then frozen and packaged. The process used to make LFTB is similar to the one used to separate cream from milk and a variety of other everyday foods.
Is LFTB regulated and inspected?
LFTB is 100% beef and all beef is strictly regulated and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) carries out USDA’s responsibilities under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. These laws protect consumers by ensuring that meat is wholesome, unadulterated, and correctly labeled and packaged. Inspectors are present in plants where these products are made everyday to ensure they are produced in accordance with established regulations in a safe and wholesome manner. During the more than three decades BPI has been producing lean beef, they have had an unsurpassed food safety record.
Is it true that these trimmings previously were only used for pet food and oil and were unfit for human consumption, as one media outlet claimed?
That statement is absolutely false. LFTB is 100% USDA inspected and regulated beef. Beef trimmings are edible and no process can make an inedible product edible. What the LFTB production process simply does is allow the removal of fat from beef trimmings, which was previously near impossible to accomplish through knife trimming by hand.
What is Ammonia and how is it different than Ammonium Hydroxide?
Ammonia is a colorless gas which is lighter than air and readily soluble in water. It is one (1) part nitrogen to three (3) parts hydrogen (NH3). It is formed naturally in nature as a by-product of protein metabolism in animals. Ammonia is naturally found in beef, other proteins, and virtually all foods.
Ammonium hydroxide is simply a solution of ammonia gas in water.
Is there Ammonia in LFTB ?
Yes, there is Ammonia naturally occurring in all beef. In addition, as part of our commitment to provide the safest lean beef possible, research drove us to create the pH enhancement process, which relies upon slightly increasing the level of Ammonia already present in beef in order to elevate its pH to combat deadly pathogens such as E coli O157:H7.
What is E coli O157:H7?
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is an enterohemorrhagic strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli and a cause of foodborne illness. Infection often leads to hemorrhagic diarrhea, and occasionally to kidney failure, especially in young children and elderly persons.
Transmission is via the fecal-oral route, and most illness has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef or ground pork, swimming in or drinking contaminated water, or eating contaminated vegetables.
Why is Ammonia used in processing a beef product?
Ammonium hydroxide is created by applying a tiny amount of ammonia in the form of a puff of gas. This raises the pH level in the beef helping to kill any harmful pathogens like E coli O157:H7 and Salmonella that could possibly be present. These bacteria grow and thrive in an acidic (low pH) environment. By raising the pH we disrupt the bacteria’s natural environment making it inhospitable for them to live. The result of this revolutionary food safety intervention is a dramatic reduction in the number of potential pathogens that may be present in foods. Ammonia is naturally found in all beef, other proteins, and virtually all foods and has been declared safe by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food processing since 1974. Ammonia, in its many forms, is widely used in the processing of numerous foods, such as baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, caramels, and puddings.
Ammonium hydroxide is just one of a number of processing aids used with meat and poultry in order to ensure the safety of these foods before they are delivered to consumers. The specific processing aide developed by BPI, the pH enhancement process, is just one important step in the overall food safety system employed by BPI.
The graphic below helps put it into a little better perspective. Ammonia based compounds are naturally occurring and can be found in every component of a bacon cheeseburger (bun, bacon, cheese, condiments, and beef). Baked goods, including breads will have ranges from 400 to 32,000 ppm. Bacon has approximately 48,000 ppm nitrogen (nitrates), with 160 ppm in the form of ammonia. Condiments, relishes, and cheeses have levels up to 8,000 ppm (for the sake of illustration, we’ll use 400 ppm for the condiments and 1,000 ppm for American cheese).
Between the naturally occurring levels and small amounts used in our food safety system, beef may have about 200 ppm. So, for the illustration, we’ve taken these amounts and multiplied by the weight of the typical bacon double cheeseburger to show the full picture.
This is really nothing new. In fact, the presence or use of ammonia in foods has been studied for years. For example, the data below contains information developed in 1973 as part of a study printed in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Click here for additional information on ammonia.
When any form of LFTB is blended into ground beef, will it be labeled?
Ground beef is a single ingredient product (beef) and LFTB is 100% beef; therefore it is not required to be listed separately on any label. We believe USDA’s decision to allow companies to voluntarily include information on their label regarding LFTB content will be an important first step in restoring consumer confidence in their ground beef.
What do the experts say about its safety?
Experts such as Dr. Gary Acuff at Texas A&M University and Dr. James Dickson with Iowa State University, among many others have examined these products and say that all forms of LFTB are wholesome, safe, and nutritious when produced in compliance with USDA regulations. A number of meat scientists, academics, food and safety experts, governmental officials, and consumer advocacy organizations have spoken on behalf of the food safety record and quality of LFTB. Experts such as Dr. Richard Ray Raymond former Under Secretary for The Food and Safety Inspection Service, Dr. Randy Phebus a Meat Scientist and food and safety expert with The Food Science Institute at Kansas State University, Dr. Thomas Powell Executive Director of the American Meat Association, and Sally Greenberg Executive Director of the National Consumers League just to name a few.
What does the food safety data show?
USDA data shows that the incidence of E coli O157:H7 in fresh ground beef has been declining significantly over the past decade. The number of USDA ground beef samples testing positive for the E coli O157:H7 pathogen have dropped 72 percent between 2000 and 2010. LFTB has been a part of that success story.
Is it really necessary to try to get every small bit of beef from a carcass?
Necessary? No. Is it the right thing to do? Absolutely!
LFTB production makes it possible to have more of the leaner ground beef blends consumers desire at affordable prices. If LFTB were not produced, 850,000,000 lbs of lean beef a year would need to be generated from some other source to meet consumer demand. It would be like throwing away 5,700 cattle a day. In a world where population is increasing*, red meat consumption is rising, and available supply is declining, it would seem that getting all the lean meat from every animal is the absolute necessary and responsible thing to do.
*According to the World Health Organization the world population is increasing by 220,000 people everyday.
For more information, visit www.beefproducts.com