WASHINGTON – Safeway Inc., the second-largest US supermarket chain, announced it will stop buying ground beef containing lean finely textured beef.

In a statement, Safeway said: “While the USDA and food industry experts agree that lean finely textured beef is safe and wholesome, recent news stories have caused considerable consumer concern about this product. Safeway will no longer purchase ground beef containing lean finely textured beef."

Media reports and consumer backlash have prompted major industry stakeholders to stop using LFTB. Safeway joins food companies such as McDonald’s Corp., Burger King and Taco Bell which have stopped using LFTB. Also, the USDA recently announced it would allow school districts to opt out of using LFTB in school lunches while at the same time reaffirming that the product is safe for consumption.

The meat industry has tried to counter the negative publicity surrounding LFTB. In announcing its decision to allow schools to opt out of using the product, USDA said the product is safe and nutritious.

“USDA continues to affirm the safety of lean finely textured beef product for all consumers and urges customers to consult science based information on the safety and quality of this product,” the agency said in a statement. “Lean finely textured beef is a meat product derived from a process which separates fatty pieces from beef trimmings to reduce the overall fat content."

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) developed the process that uses the compound ammonium hydroxide to rid the trimmings of foodborne pathogens such as E. coli. Eldon Roth, founder of BPI, released a statement defending the product.

“As parents and consumers continue to make important decisions about the food they and their children eat, we hope that they listen to credible sources outside media sensationalists and take note of the overwhelming support from the government and scientific community who have routinely testified that our lean beef trimmings are 100% beef and are produced, and tested in a way that makes this food very safe,” Roth said.

Also, a student research project has revealed that lean finely textured beef improves the quality of fresh and cooked ground beef.

Courtney Moon, a senior at the Univ. of Arkansas majoring in animal science, presented her paper titled “Lean beef trim improved fresh and cooked quality characteristics of ground beef patties” at a student research competition. She found that ground beef containing up to 20 percent of LFTB improved the color of fresh beef, reduced spoilage and increased tenderness.