Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Will consumers continue to buy Beef Products Inc.’s Ammonia Meat Product?

AP’s Christopher Leonard and Mae Anderson in their story, “Restaurants, food makers defend products after report that treated beef may still harbor germs,” asked the obvious question that the New York Times did not ask – “Would customers of Beef Product Inc.’ ammonia treated meat product, continue to buy it after the front page New York Times expose?”

Apparently the answer is, “keep that low-cost meat product coming.” According to the AP:

… Restaurant chains and beef processors defended their products’ safety Thursday after a report that an ammonia treatment thought to kill harmful germs in meat isn’t as effective as the industry and regulators believed. …

… McDonald’s said it doesn’t plan to change its relationship with the company. …

… Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said the company plans to continue to work with Beef Products, whose meat it uses in hamburger patties. …

… Burger King uses a “small percentage” of Beef Products Inc.’s beef trimmings in its U.S. hamburgers and does not plan to change that, spokeswoman Denise Wilson said.

Other restaurants and the federal school lunch program, which buy millions of pounds of the ammonia meat product yearly, have not yet weighed in on future purchasing plans.

It will also be interesting to see what consumers (those who actually eat the ammonia beef product) do. The meat product industry is betting that consumers simply do not care what they put in their mouths.

  • cheryl berenson RN, MS-MPH student OHSU

    The NY Times story today almost made me sick to my stomach– and as a long time nurse, that takes a lot!!! who thinks this swill is a good thing to feed our kids (or anyone)?????

  • Janice

    Customers will not continue buying this poison. The article was enough to help me with my New Year’s resolution: go vegetarian.

  • concern4pets

    This isn’t new news, but certainly points out needed labeling reforms. See this 2008 article:
    Amanda Hitt: Some unpleasant things in your meat
    01:00 AM EDT on Tuesday, September 2, 2008
    Lots of consumers do care what goes in their family’s mouths, Mr. Marler. Keep that faith.

  • DG

    I care what I put into my mouth and The Times story made me sick to my stomach. I told my wife – I don’t care what it costs – find something that doesn’t have BPI’s pseudo-beef in it and buy that…

  • We don’t eat a lot of fast food (only when we’re on the road and don’t have other options), and I grind my own meat at home from primals. That said, after reading this article while on vacation, on our stop at a rest area for a meal, we consciously avoided the burgers. And we won’t be eating another fast food burger again until we know. I checked the In-N-Out website, where they state that they use only beef chuck, which they grind themselves. Five Guys was less specific, stating that their distributor purchases raw materials from major suppliers. I sent them this email:
    After reading a number of articles about ground beef processing (specifically including stories about Beef Products, Inc. (“BPI”), its safety record, and its use of an ammonia-based process), I am concerned about consuming such products, including any ground beef not made from beef primals. Can you tell me a) whether you use BPI product, and b) whether you purchase ground meat made primarily from beef primals or from trimmings?
    I’m hoping for a response. I’d like to mobilize – maybe via FB? – to get people to put pressure on their burger joints. It’s true that vegetarianism is an option, but not everyone sees it that way, and omnivores should enjoy some assurance of food safety as well.

  • jmg1981

    have any of you researched what where the ammonia goes after its cooked? it cooks out in the oven. ive worked in a number of food processing facilities that use ammonia in their product. the ammonia cooks out when in the ove causing the product to rise. there are alot more harmful products in for than ammonia, like trans fats,preservatives and crushed up bugs they use for food coloring. so know your facts before you start to bash any certain company

  • berkgrad

    jmg1981, I fail to understand your argument that the ammonia bakes out. What about the chemical changes the ammonia has actually done to the raw material (Not the E coli, the FOOD!)? I could barely consider that edible food after processing. Discussing the concentration of residual ammonia is irrelevant. Discussing the percent reduction of E coli is irrelevant.
    And this article only poses the question “Will customers of BPI continue buying their product?”. A more relevant question would be “Would consumers continue buying meat with BPI’s product if it were labeled as such?”. This is a case of labeling a product as food when many consumers would not agree. BPI is essentially making money as a fraudulent business.

  • Lesley Lee

    I agree. It is fraud. The commercials pound into our heads that we are eating only 100% pure beef. It’s not pure if you have to wash it with a chemical.

  • Linn

    While Ive seen Food Inc and read the NY times article, and of course the thought of ammonia in my food is not appealing. The facts are that ammonia is a natural occuring substance in food products and within our own bodies. We need it to survive. Its very hard to get ammonia poisoning. BPI does seem to have a very safe track record according to the official records. Only one contamination caught before it left the plant with their check and hold system. I think people are just caught up with the sensationalism of the imagery shown in the movie and the thought of ammonia as a toxic chemical.

  • Jonas Andersson

    Where can I find that official track record?

  • Jason

    It’s amazing to see this as a solution to the Ecoli (result of bad farming practices) problem. Rather than fix the problem with how the beef is raised/fed companies seek ways to make money by offering a technological solution. Its always and will always be about the all mighty dollar….

  • Karina

    The lines of reasoning that “ammonia is necessary for the human body” and “ammonia bakes out” are totally irrelevant to me.
    The question is: would I willingly feed my toddler daughter food that I knew had been on the floor of a processing plant and was so unsafe that it had been subsequently treated with ammonia to kill off e.coli pathogens?
    No, sirs, I most certainly would not.
    I defy any of you to say that you would willingly feed that to your children, either.
    It blows my mind that this is still going on. And it reinforces my decisions to eat at home, buy locally from farmers if possible, and use the health food store primarily.
    If you want to feed your families ammonia-laced, e-coli tainted meat scraps swept off of a processing plant floor, jmg1981 and Linn–well, you just go right ahead. You can have our share.

  • Yvonne Lawton

    Karina- no kidding. How about- who wants to eat tendons, organs, cow tail, cow snout, cow ear, cow eyeball, cow bum, udders…what do people think “trimmings” are? Not to mention whatever else ends up on the kill floor with these items, before it is then “washed” with ammonia. Gross. And I don’t even blame BPI- they’re just trying to make a buck. I do blame the USDA for their relative weakness in the face of the fast food giants and their lobbyists, and most at fault are the businesses who purchase this product and serve it to their customers to save a few pennies on the pound. I could almost believe that the ammonia is the lesser of all the evils associated with this process, because poop without e. coli in it is still poop in my book.

  • Amand

    I just wanted to say that I am a consumer that has chosen to NOT any meat from this company. I ask and if a seller can not tell me I pass. I called around to grocery stores and found one that did not use them either. I am finding out if our school system does and if so my children will not be eating meat from them either.
    If there are petitions I should sign someone post the links here. We should not let this pass just so a company can make more money! Unacceptable!

  • Melyssa

    You can add my family to the list that is boycotting BPI and the fast food giants that use this meat. Also Monsanto products are making a swift exit from my home.

  • @Yvonne – while they may not have a place in ground beef for burgers, etc, I can’t say I object to eating beef tendon, tail, or organs. These all have a culinary role – tendon is essential to pho, oxtail makes phenomenal stew and braises, and organs like beef tongue and heart are delicious meats in their own right. Disclosure is important, though. Most people understand “ground beef” to mean ground primals or at least the trimmings from breaking down primals, not primals plus offal.
    I got an email from someone today asking if I’d ever heard from Five Guys, and I checked to see if I had. I have not. Five Guys, are you out there?

  • Professional Meat Packer

    There is a good reason that nearly 99% of all meat packers are vegetarian. We work long days in a plant packing meat that has been traveling on a conveyer belt a mile long. It starts with a fresh kill, then the hide is sliced at the neck and legs pulled off the body pretty much all in one piece. The carcas travels on hooks to the saws where it is cut down the middle, then station by station it is cut into quarters, and smaller pieces again and packed into 32 kilo boxes of which many go into the freezer. Meat trim goes into boxes, with meat that is sterile separated from meat that may have fallen on the foor or on to a rubber boot, etc, When trims are gathered from boxes, they separate the meat from the lard fat. and sell it off . Different purveyors would come for the fat and process it for lard and other things, another company would come for the hoofs, bones etc. Little did I know that 99% of this animal was used in some way or another. I had seen some typical beef byproducts in stores, like brains, tongue, liver, heart and kidney. I didn’t know they sold off the intestines and hoofs and heads, nose and necks. What the BPI process does is it enables the processor to use all of the animal byproducts and not loose anything to waste. You have no clue what part of the beef you are eating when you bite into a hot dog or bologna, believe me, its all in there. Sure a hot dog is 100 % beef, but its not muscle meat, it is parts, and we all know that parts is parts, right? Or is it?. Back in the 70’s only 55% yeild of the cow was usable in the market place. Now that we have ammonia processing, there is virtually no loss at all. The meat industry is huge in this country. There is a good reason that meat doesn’t taste like it did in the good old days. It isnt the same meat. The flavor is colored by ammonia gas and has no flavor. It is not sterile at all. Next time you are at the store ask the butcher where has this beef been? We haven’t talked about dairy cows yet,,,,

  • Diana, VA

    I was repulsed enough to explain this to my 11 and 13 year old boys, who would usually eat anything, THEY DONT WANT TO EAT IT anymore….That says alot! So bye, bye Mc Donalds, and Burger King (till we can find out whats got those trimmings in it)!

  • justine

    The substance of Linn’s comment waaay up there reads almost word-for-word the mantra on BPI’s website…(seriously – here’s their site: http://www.beefproducts.com/government_academic/index.cfm)

    … Linn, do you work for them? (narrows gaze, suspicious) Ammonia may be a building block of life, and it may occur naturally in all sorts of things – – but it is not ADDED to those things; they are not bathed in a solution of it (that would be the opposite of “occurs naturally”).

    Avoid all the burgers you want at Mcd’s etc… this stuff is ubiquitous; it’s in schools, frozen entrees, sausage/pepperoni, fresh and frozen hamburgers…
    it’s kinda everywhere. and are we really surprised? a nation of over-eaters who demand cheap food – what did you think They were going to do? NOT add this apalling, and remarkably affordable, additive abomination?

    Thanks, FDA, for green-lighting a process that Windex’s my meat! And let’s not forget that FDA is OK with the mildly addictive opiates that “naturally occur” in cheese too…

    man, FDA rocks!

  • Andrea

    I am sickened about this. I was unaware of this process until I watched the current episode of The Jamie Oliver Food Revolution the other night. “Pink Slime” is one of Bush’s worst decisions, right after going into Iraq…but back to our health…I will never eat hamburger out in a restaurant and will only buy grass fed organic hamburger from this day forward. It just makes me sick what our FDA approves for human consumption. Hey, could I please have a glass of ammonia with that burger???? Gross!!!!
    Way to go!!!!

  • greg

    Sorry, I don’t care if I have “ammonia in my body”… this processing of meat is reprehensible… Meatless Mondays just became Meatless Weekdays in our household.. Cargill, Monsanto, BPI… shame on you and yours.

  • Vince

    E. Coli and salmonella are from the feces mixing with the flesh during the slaughtering process. Evidently the problem can’t be solved with hygiene and inspections, so we sterilize it with the toxic chemical ammonia. I would just like to know who uses it and who doesn’t, this should not be privileged information. Until then I will be avoiding all processed beef products.

  • Arin Andwean

    I have worked for over 16 years as a Federal Meat Inspector. I have seen the major advances in Food Safety that have been made over the years; and I have seen the Best and the Worst the Industry and inspection have to offer.

    First off, we have caused the push for processed, modified beef by pushing Industry to provide an E. Coli free product. This is not scientifically possible. However, getting passed the smoke and mirrors, Industry has been forced to produce as clean a meat product as is possible. However, do not make the mistake of thinking of meat as bad. Fruits and vegetables carry far worse dangers than meat and meat products. Where is the FDA Inspector each day? I know where I am! I am on the job ensuring that the meat you eat is handled in the safest manner possible. I have worked in restaurants, and their workers are not highly trained in what is a safe way to handle food. They don’t always perform a pre-operational sanitation check each day before production begins. They don’t always throw out product that is left over using a clean container each day. They don’t spend
    hundreds of dollars testing their food to ensure that it is clean. And for every pound of ground beef that might contain ammonia, how many breads, chips, soft drinks and other snacks that are far more highly processed than meat and might contain ammonia and other artificial/chemical ingredients? There are hundreds of chemicals used in products every day that are in small enough amounts that they are not required to be put on the label.

    Another bit of knowledge. Farmers have used nearly every portion of an animal since they began slaughtering them. Only back in the day they did not have to ensure that fecal content from
    the guts did not get on any portion of the meat by inspecting the carcass and parts after slaughter.

    Now for the other shocker! The fruits and vegetables that you have been eating are natural carriers of E.coli(remember the strawberries and spinach?) Salmonella, Staphyloccocus, and the very deadly Botulism(onions, potatoes, and carrots to name a few). There isn’t a Federal Inspector in the cookie factory on a daily basis ensuring that the butter, eggs, etc. being used are kept cool and pests are kept out. But there isn’t a meat plant out there that doesn’t have an Inspector (in most cases Federal) who verifies that there are no rats running around the plant or companies using inedible, diseased, or contaminated meat in food products (and you’re worried about a little ammonia!).

    If you want an ammonia free product: buy, transport, store, prepare, and cook your meat properly! Wash your vegetables! (Most cases of food born illness/ food poisoning are because of home based mistakes.) And do not listen to people who only have half the story! The gentleman in the video even admits he does not know or understand the process. How can he then make these claims? This is the worst kind of sensationalistic, hack “journalism.” A meat slaughterer or processor is not allowed to pick up and use trimmings off the floor that might be contaminated. They can trim and wash meat that has fallen on the ground, but not till it has been reinspected.

    What is more, do you know what goes on in the restaurants and retail stores? The Federal Government does not inspect those! State and local governments (that can afford it) do. If they don’t wash their dishes or have employees trained to not pick highly processed food off the floor and use it, NO ONE is going to see that! At least not someone who couldn’t lose their job because they disagree.

    Do you know how much Ammonia Hydroxide is used to kill bacteria? (Please Note: This is NOT necessarily the same form of ammonia under your kitchen sink!) Do you know how much remains after ground beef containing it has been cooked and or further processed? If there isn’t any, are you still going to boycott the producers of processed beef trimmings, but go out and by the can of soft drink that doesn’t provide you with protein, fat, minerals, or vitamins and contains 5 chemicals instead of one?

  • AJ

    Arin, why is it I get the feeling you are not telling us the whole truth?
    Federal standards and enforcement for food processing have declined since Reagan under the rubric of “get the ‘gubmint’ off our backs”.
    I find it horrifying that they can even call this stuff 100% beef. And treating it with ammonia? No thanks.
    Our whole food supply chain is a disaster thanks to greedy businessmen and politicians.
    The stuff should be labeled. For 3 cents a burger more, I’ll take the better stuff without all the crap in it.

  • Kari

    I just read that McDonalds has quit using beef processed with boneless beef trimmings. Thank goodness for public opinion. Their hamburgers tasted like garbage. I realized why when I read the NYT article about “pink slime”. I quit using processed ground beef and no longer eat burgers at any restaurants. I have my beef ground in the store from whole cuts so I know what I am eating. I am very unhappy that the government lets beef processors get away with adulterating our food. Such greed is sickening. We should have the ability to decide if we want this stuff. Please find ways to publish who sells these products. Is there a customer list anywhere? I just realized that Polish sausage and pepperoni need to come off my list. What was I thinking!

  • Heather

    There has been research done on irradiation for numerous years. In fact I don’t know of any substantial, accepted research which shows irradiated foods to be harmful when injested. With this being said, if you are against the ammonia gas then why not look at irradiation as an alternative? There are several universities that have done or continue to do research.

    As for me I try to buy traditional Kosher meats. If the Rabbi’s were to irradiate the meat (although I have no idea why) I would continue to buy and enjoy it. Fortunately the time tested methods of processing don’t tend to lend themselves to contamination.

    Irradiation as written about by the CDC:

    Which foodborne diseases could be prevented with irradiation?

    Treating raw meat and poultry with irradiation at the slaughter plant could eliminate bacteria commonly found raw meat and raw poultry, such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. These organisms currently cause millions of infections and thousands of hospitalizations in the United States every year. Raw meat irradiation could also eliminate Toxoplasma organisms, which can be responsible for severe eye and congenital infections. Irradiating prepared ready-to-eat meats like hot dogs and deli meats, could eliminate the risk of Listeria from such foods. Irradiation could also eliminate bacteria like Shigella and Salmonella from fresh produce. The potential benefit is also great for those dry foods that might be stored for long times and transported over great distances, such as spices and grains. Animal feeds are often contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella. Irradiation of animal feeds could prevent the spread of Salmonella and other pathogens to livestock through feeds.

  • Sam

    BPI is saying you support and encourage the use of pink slime in ground beef. is that correct?

  • No, I support their testing of non-O157 E. coli, that is it.