If you’re not serving time, why serve yourself ‘prison food’?

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January 14, 2014



“Chicken ooze” is back in the news.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Tyson Foods has announced the recall of 33,840 pounds of mechanically separated chicken products — the poultry version of “pink slime” that we here at Food Identity Theft like to refer to as “chicken ooze” — suspected of being tainted with a bacterial strain called Salmonella Heidelberg.

But here’s the part that’s really worth noting: it seems that the contaminated chicken ooze, in this case, was actually prison food.  It was served to inmates at a Tennessee correctional facility, where seven subsequently came down with salmonella poisoning, for which two had to be hospitalized.

The recalled ooze, packaged in cases containing four 10-pound tubes labeled TYSON MECHANICALLY SEPARATED CHICKEN, was reportedly only intended “for institutional use” and not available at retail outlets. So no need to worry that you might also have ingested some — that is, unless you currently are or have recently been incarcerated.

But this poultry-processing waste product — described as a “paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue” — is also an ingredient found in a wide variety of processed foods that can be purchased in your local supermarket.

As we reported in this blog last October, the products where mechanically separated poultry, or MSP, can be found include such standard items as  Chef Boyardee Mini ABC’s & 123′s (with the “good stuff inside) and Jumbo Spaghetti & Meatballs; Hormel Chili Turkey; Oscar Mayer Bologna; Pickle & Pimiento Loaf and  Classic Turkey Franks; Lunchables Uploaded; Libby’s Vienna Sausage; and Foster Farms Chicken Franks, Corn Dogs and Deli Meats.

Why ‘chicken ooze’ is a prison menu staple

In fact, mechanically separated poultry is considered to be a very high-risk material when it comes to contamination by salmonella and other food-borne pathogens — samples of which test positive for salmonella up to 90 percent of the time, according to an expert quoted in an industry publication.

It also has some other distinctly unappetizing attributes — for example,  it contains an unknown amount of bone marrow, is “allowed” to contain up to one percent “bone solids” (with processors permitted to maintain “voluntary” records of bone particle size), as well as “immature sex glands,” feather particles and hair, and levels of fluoride, a toxic substance, that could possibly have health implications in infants and young children and has also been linked to an increased risk of hip fractures in the elderly.

But then, “chicken ooze,” like pink slime, is a particularly cheap form of protein, selling for around 10 cents a pound. Which is why, no doubt, that it’s ordered in large quantities by prison systems, which are notorious for wanting to save money and aren’t apt to be all that concerned about serving the highest quality food to those serving out their sentences.

But this raises the question of why anyone not doing time for a crime should want to voluntarily ingest the inferior and “institutional” sort of junk food that’s routinely dished out to prisoners as part of their punishment.

So next time you read a product’s list of ingredients (something we hope you do by now), just ask yourself, “do these sound like the kinds of things I might be forced to eat if I were behind bars?” And unless your objective is to penalize yourself for something you feel guilty about, put it back on the shelf and find something less apt to be found on a prison mess hall menu (or perhaps shoved through a slot in a cell door).

As long as you’re free to make your own food choices, you should no more have to settle for food containing poultry waste products and other cheap and dicey additives than you should have to subsist on a diet of bread and water.