QSR chains shun ammonium hydroxide technology

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON – McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell have reportedly stopped using lean beef trimmings treated with ammonium hydroxide, according to an article posted on ArgusLeader.com. Lean beef trimmings are commonly used to produce various lower-fat blends of ground meat.

Beef Products Inc., (BPI) Dakota Dunes, SD, treats trimmings using this process, which it developed. It rids the beef trimmings of E. coli bacteria and other dangerous microbes by treating it with ammonium hydroxide, which is one of many government-approved chemicals used at various stages during processing to kill pathogens. USDA stands by the safety of the BPI product plus using ammonium hydroxide for controlling bacteria.

The fast-food chains’ decision to stop using this technology was lamented by David Theno, a well-known food-safety expert and industry consultant who has advised BPI. “It’s just a shame that an activist with an agenda can really degrade the safety of our food supply,” he said in reference to activist charges that some treated lean-beef trimmings that could be used in lower-quality ground meat destined for pet food, could also be sold for human consumption after the trimmings were treated. Theno called BPI’s process “extraordinarily effective” in making beef safer.

In a Meat MythCrushers video from the American Meat Institute in conjunction with the American Meat Science Association posted Oct. 17, Gary Acuff, Ph.D., director for food safety and professor of food microbiology at Texas A&M Univ., explains: “One form of ammonia called ammonium hydroxide is sometimes used in processing foods like baked goods, cheeses, chocolates and some beef products — this is not the same type of ammonia in household cleaners.” (Articles, fact sheets and a Q&A about the safe use of ammonium hydroxide in beef production are also included on the web page.)

BPI once said its treated product was in 70 percent of the hamburger sold in the US. But as a result of the fallout from activist charges, it has lost 25 percent of this business — but this part of the business is stabilizing, the article said.

BPI’s process uses ammonium hydroxide gas, which contains a minute fraction of ammonia to kill bacteria in lean beef trimmings, the company said. Ammonia is used extensively in the food industry, and it is found naturally in meat. Basically a mixture of water and ammonia, ammonium hydroxide is utilized in baked goods, cheeses, candy and other products, the International Food Information Council said.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the chemical for various purposes. Regarding meat, ammonium hydroxide lowers the acidity, making it inhospitable for bacteria to grow and survive.

Nancy Donley, who co-founded the consumer advocacy group STOP Foodborne Illness after her child died from eating a burger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 in 1993, said critics of the process unfairly exploited the reality of how food is produced when the idea is to prevent human illness.

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