The New York Times reports that one of the main suppliers of processed beef filler to fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Burger King -- not to mention school lunch and grocery store meat -- had been using ammonia as a means of killing E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella.
Years ago, the supplier, Beef Products Inc., figured out a way to process and treat the inedible bits from the carcass -- bits that "typically include most of the material from the outer surfaces of the carcass," the article reports. The processed filler, when mixed into ground beef, is intended to reduce the cost of beef and thus boost profit margins.
However, a considerable amount of dangerous bacteria like salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 is present in the "outer surfaces" such as the skin itself. So Beef Products began to blast its filler product with ammonia to kill the bacteria. Ammonia.
And they're still doing it.
The only problem was that it tasted terrible, so they apparently began to use less ammonia.
Meanwhile the USDA exempted Beef Products filler from inspection, since the ammonia would do the trick. Do you see where this is headed?
Less ammonia but the same amount of filler means increased traces of pathogens in beef samples -- a result that was confirmed by school lunch officials and the New York Times. In other words, too much ammonia and pH levels are too high and the filler is inedible. Not enough and it doesn't kill the pathogens. But either way, the beef still deliberately contains ammonia.
Again, this is beef filler that's used in school lunches and the most popular fast food chains in America. As recently as 2004, school lunch beef contained as much as 15% of this ammonia-treated filler as a means of saving a whole three cents per pound.
On several occasions, school lunch officials have suspended the use of Beef Products filler. But only temporarily due to bacteria contamination and not because of ammonia, pH or alkalinity levels. Meanwhile, fast food and grocery store beef continues to contain Beef Products' ammonia-doused processed whatever.
You won't find ammonia listed on any labels, by the way, so don't bother looking. Long ago, the government acquiesced to Beef Products' request that the ammonia treatment be categorized as a "processing agent" so it doesn't appear on any consumer labeling.
UPDATE: Here's a clip from the documentary Food Inc. about Beef Products Inc.'s ammonia cleansing process.