Food Identity Theft welcomes Beef Products Inc. explanation of their product

Posted by
March 23, 2012

Today’s post is a milestone for Food Identity Theft.  Last week’s blog presented our view of a product commonly called “pink slime.”  For the first time, the manufacturer of a product we have featured has asked to present its side of the story, and we are pleased to present their views unedited.

We hope that Food Identity Theft friends and followers will continue to add their comments and views about this product, and the food supply in general, at our Facebook page. It is our view that our food supply has serious problems created in large part, if not primarily, by misinformation designed to confuse consumers.  This is why we are so incensed about the request to the FDA by the Corn Refiners Association to change the name of “high fructose corn syrup,” an ingredient widely recognized by consumers, to “corn sugar,” the name of a product already defined by the FDA as containing no (as in zero) fructose, and the misleading ads they run supporting their effort.

Beef Products Inc., the manufacturer of  “boneless lean beef trimmings” (the name they prefer for their product) have chosen a different road.  They want their side of the story to be known, and for this we applaud them.  We are confident that fully and effectively informed consumers can make reasonable choices. We make no comments today on “boneless lean beef trimmings” but will, from time to time, offer our views on the product as part of what we hope will be an ongoing forum. Today, we are running the unedited views provided by Beef Products Inc.

(Source: Beef Products Inc.)
Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings

USDA has announced it will permit schools to select whether the products they purchase contain boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT).  In marking this decision, three basic questions need to be answered:

  • Is it meat?
  • Is it nutritious?
  • Is it safe?

The answers to above are yes, yes, and yes.

To understand why the answers are yes, it may be helpful to understand BLBT’s origins and evolution.

Beginning in the 1960’s, meat companies sought to increase the amount of lean meat obtained from the carcasses through the development of new processes.

One potential source of additional meat was the lean meat woven within the fat that could not be economically recovered through normal knife trimming.  Therefore, the industry began to look for other practical methods to harvest this lean tissue.

To recover this lean, beef companies developed equipment to separate this lean tissue by a physical process.1  This separation process ultimately led to BPI’s BLBT.

To separate lean meat from fat, USDA inspected and passed beef trimmings with at least 12% visible lean would be heated to a low temperature (less than 120º F).  This would result in the liquefaction of fat.  Then, by means of a centrifuge, the lean meat would be separated from the fat.

When initially developed, the product produced by the separation process was below the standards of beef trimmings derived by hand both in terms of nutritional quality and appearance.  The nutritional quality of the early product was affected by the presence of lower-grade proteins (connective tissue) that were in the trimmings and stayed with the lean meat during the separation process.  Appearance was affected by the temperature needed to liquefy the fat.  The products resulting from this process are known as “partially defatted chopped beef” (PDCB) and can be used in a variety of products, such as beef patties, pizza toppings, meat balls and chili.  PDCB is labeled as beef, but may be limited to a percentage of the meat in the total product, e.g., (beef patties –  no limit, chili –  25% of meat in the product).

In the early 1980’s BPI entered the market by producing PDCB.  However, BPI was not content with simply producing PDCB; it wanted to improve the product quality.  By building its own equipment, it was able to address and eliminate the nutritional and product quality and shortcomings of PDCB.

By designing and installing a “de-sinewer2,” BPI is able to remove the connective tissue from the lean meat prior to separation of the meat from the fat.   Through this removal, BPI increased the protein quality from less than the 2.0 protein efficiency ratio of PDCB to over 2.5.  This step has made the final product comparable to hand derived trimmings.  Even under the newer Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score, BPI’s product is equivalent to other beef trimmings.

As to the overall appearance, BPI was also able to improve the separation process.  The temperature necessary for separation is approximately the same temperature of the carcass at time of slaughter (~ 105º F).  By reducing the temperature, the product’s appearance is improved.

Based on the changes BPI implemented, its lean meat derived from the trimmings is not only superior to PDCB, it matches hand derived trimmings.  On the basis of this, USDA permitted the use of BPI’s product in ground beef in 1990.  USDA also recognized a new name for the product, lean finely textured beef.

When pathogens were identified as an emerging public health concern in the 1990’s, BPI began sampling its product for E. coli O157:H7, the only adulterant in raw products.  To this day, BPI’s sampling program, of one sample per 60 pound box, takes more samples per pound of product than any other sampling plan in industry.  Notwithstanding this robust testing, BPI’s positive incidence rate for E. coli O157:H7 was below the rate for beef trimmings generally, negating any inference the raw materials are more highly contaminated.

However, testing only prevents shipment of adulterated product, it does not prevent the adulteration.  BPI, though research, determined that the rapid adjustment of beef’s pH, followed by a quick freezing and stress, could destroy pathogens, such as E. coli O157:H7.  BPI selected ammonium hydroxide to adjust the pH because it is in wide spread use in the food industry as a GRAS ingredient (generally recognized as safe) and it is a natural constituent of meat.3  Through scientific studies, this pH intervention has been demonstrated to reduce E. coli O157:H7 levels and was recognized by USDA in 2001.  To distinguish this product, BPI developed the name “boneless lean beef trimmings” or BLBT.

In the last year, BPI has finished its most recent validation of its pH process.  Also, it became only the second company to test its products for non-O157 STEC, pathogens similar to E. coli O157:H7 and which will be deemed adulterants by USDA on June 4th of this year.

This history puts the facts surrounding BLBT into context and supports the answers to the three core questions:

BLBT is meat

BLBT is made from raw materials that are meat.  These raw materials  are also used for other meat products for the consumer.
BLBT is produced by a process designed to remove lean from the fat more efficiently than could be derived by hand trimming.
Other meats from the separation process have has been in use for dozens of years without separate labeling of the resultant product.

BLBT is nutritious

BLBT has the protein quality of meat due to the use of the de-sinewer during processing.
BLBT has the nutrients commonly associated with other meat: protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins.

BLBT is safe

It is treated with a pH intervention using a GRAS substance in use throughout the food industry.
The pH intervention process has been repeatedly validated to reduce pathogens on the product.
BPI verifies the intervention through a robust finished product sampling program.

Cost Benefits

Given the answers above, BLBT also makes sense from an economic perspective.  It enables the recovery of approximately 30 pounds of lean meat per animal and costs less than any other meat with the same lean content.  This will assist schools in meeting the provisions of the dietary guidelines dealing with fat content of school meals at a lower cost.