"Pink Slime" Returns Just in Time for Grilling Season

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"Lean finely textured beef" sounds good—almost gourmet!—but the meat product found in everything from pasta sauces to hamburger patties is also known by a more popular nickname: pink slime.

Two years ago, there was an uproar after many media reports showed machines oozing a slimy substance so shockingly pink that it was hard to believe it was edible, much less meat. As a result, most pink slime was pulled from products—but now, thanks to the recession, it's making a comeback.

If you've been to a grocery store lately, you've likely noticed rising meat prices and felt the pinch at the cash register. The price of beef has nearly doubled in the past four years, going from an average $2.20 a pound in 2010 to $4.00 a pound. One way for food manufacturers to cut down their costs without raising prices is to return to the cheaper meats. Companies are saying the public outcry was overblown to begin with, based more on fear of the nasty images than on any real information about the safety of the meat.

According to Cargill, one of the largest manufacturers of the beef byproduct, pink slime is 100-percent lean beef trimmings treated with citric acid to kill bacteria. It's the citric acid—a natural acid found in many fruits like lemons and oranges—that gives the stuff its characteristic nauseating pink shade.

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The meat industry has maintained that the product has always been safe, saying that they use the same standard as the rest of their meat, and that citric acid is a natural preservative used in many foods. In 2012, one manufacturer filed a defamation suit against ABC news for the pink slime news reports, saying the sensationalist videos misled the public and made them think it was unsafe, which led to plant closures and layoffs. The case hasn't been decided yet, though South Dakota's supreme court recently ruled that it could continue to trial.

In the meantime, many customers continue to steer clear, just in case. And if you want to make sure your meat is sans slime, skip processed meats and go to a store where you can pick a cut of beef and ask for it to be ground while you wait.

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