U.S. burger chains ditch ammonia-treated beef product
Don Gorske, 59, a retired prison guard, eats his 25,000th Big Mac at a McDonalds in his hometown of Fond du La, Wis., on Tuesday, May, 17, 2011. (AP / The Reporter, Patrick Flood)
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Thursday, January 26, 2012 11:01PM EST
An ammonia-treated beef filler ingredient that incensed celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is being dropped by a number of fast food outlets in the U.S. But Canada's largest fast food retailer, McDonald's Canada, says the ingredient was never used here.
McDonald's USA, Burger King and Taco Bell have all decided to stop using beef trimmings processed by Beef Products Inc. which uses a mixture of ammonium hydroxide and water to create a beef filler product.
The ammonium hydroxide helps to kill bacteria in fatty beef trimmings – the meat that is trimmed off larger cuts of beef and that would otherwise go into pet food and other uses.
Oliver derided the product as "pink slime" and said on his ABC reality show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" last spring that he was disgusted by ammoniated beef trimmings.
"Everything about this process, to me, is about no respect for food, or people, or children, and I'd want to know when I'm eating this stuff. And I'd want it clearly labeled," he said.
With a consumer backlash growing, McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell have each decided to stop using BPI beef trimmings, though the former two have said that their decisions were not a reaction to Oliver's show.
In a statement issued to CTVNews.ca, Todd Bacon, senior director of quality systems at McDonald's USA, said food safety has always been a top priority for his company.
"Currently, McDonald's USA does not use ammonia-treated beef in our hamburgers. The decision to discontinue its use was not related to any particular event, but rather a result of our efforts to align our standards for beef around the world," he said.
He added that McDonald's complies with government food safety regulations and also has its own food safety measures and standards throughout its supply chain.
McDonald's Canada spokesperson Karin Campbell tells CTVNews.ca that McDonald's burgers sold in Canada have never contained beef fillers from BPI.
"Our beef patties are made with 100 per cent Canadian beef, no salt, no additives, just salt and pepper added on the grill," she said.
While many consumers might find the idea of ammonia being used in their meat alarming, Beef Product Inc. insists the ammoniating process is safe and helps to lower the risk of foodborne illness, such as salmonella and E. coli.
They also note that ammonium hydroxide is just one of a number of "processing aids" that are used throughout the meat and poultry industry.
"Ammonium hydroxide is naturally found in beef and used in the processing of numerous foods, such as baked goods, cheeses, gelatins, chocolate, caramels, and puddings," the company says on its website.
"One result of this food safety system is the dramatic reduction in the number of potential pathogens that may be present in foods, such as E. coli O157:H7."
The International Food Information Council Foundation says on its website that while processing aids such as ammonium hydroxide sometimes remain in a food after processing, they are present "only at safe and insignificant levels."