Engineering a Safer Burger
Technology Is Entrepreneur’s Main Ingredient for Bacteria-Free Beef
By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008; D01
SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. — The key to a safer meat supply may be in a two-story white building next to a meat-packing plant just south of the Missouri River.
The building houses a processing plant that produces frozen lean beef used in 75 percent of hamburger patties sold in the United States. It is also a fortress against potentially lethal bacteria.
. . . Roth, 65, started his company, Beef Products Inc., in 1981 after developing a way to use centrifuges to extract valuable lean beef from less valuable, fattier trimmings. The meat BPI produces is just one component in ground beef, usually no more than 25 percent of the final product.
A single patty can contain meat from multiple processors, and even multiple countries, which makes for a public-health challenge.
. . . challenge Roth and his engineers faced was calibrating the ammonia so that it killed the greatest number of bacteria without affecting the flavor or appearance of the meat . . . Once the meat leaves the centrifuges, the lean beef passes through a tube the size of a pencil, where it is exposed for less than a second to a tiny amount of ammonia gas. When the gas hits the meat, it combines with water in the meat to form ammonium hydroxide and eliminates any acidity.
. . . a BPI subsidiary, Freezing Machines Inc., to use carbon monoxide in its processing of steaks. His group, as well as STOP and CFA, has objected to the use of carbon monoxide during packaging to make meat retain its color because doing so can make the meat look fresher than it is.
. . . latest efforts entail making pH-enhanced beef patties for the school lunch program and steaks injected with an ammonium hydroxide-treated brine. Also in the works is a type of lean meat that when blended with other meat reduces the bacteria levels of the entire batch.
Commenting to my wife on the thin, gray, tasteless and nearly unidentifiable patty that made up my McDonalds burger, I mentioned to her that it could be made of nearly anything–cardboard, tofu, pressed vegetable fat with some sort of fibre added. Certainly not beef, at least no longer recognizable as beef.
I may have unfairly truncated the article for use here, because it is a long article and details Eldon Roth’s quite heroic and lifelong quest for bringing safety to a part of the American food-chain that is particularly vulnerable to bacterial taint. I encourage you to follow the link to the full article, as it’s complicated and honestly searching for solutions.
The question remains, after portions of animals have been centrifuged, separated and manipulated to the extent they can be extruded through a pipe the size of a pencil, then stamped into the shape of a hamburger patty and quick-frozen–can they still be fairly called “meat?” Animal protein, perhaps. But meat?
My daughter lives in Livingston, Montana and she occasionally buys a half a young pig or lamb for the freezer. It comes from a farmer she knows and either he or she does the butchering. I am not so fortunate, nor are you most probably. But there is surely an alternative somewhere in the wings when mass produced, perfectly tasteless, meat-mush becomes the norm and producers crow about ‘safety’ while passing our food through a pipe the size of a pencil.
Ag-business has already taken the basic meat animal–the cow–and deprived it of its natural forage in the final months of life in feed-lots. Cattle are grazing animals and the intensity of corn feeding throws their natural balance so far out of whack that feed-lot animals require huge amounts of antibiotics just t keep them on their feet until slaughter. 70% of all antibiotics in America are consumed by the animals you and I end up eating and the indication is that we are being dosed by the meat.
(Antibiotics in your meat) – The storage tanks of Rachelle Laboratories, Inc. stand like grain silos along the Terminal Island Freeway in Long Beach, California. They are filled with hundreds of tons of Chlorachel, a Chlortetracycline animal feed additive which Rachelle markets for livestock and poultry.
From the freeway, the Rachelle complex looks like an oil refinery. Iron catwalks, steel piping, stacks emitting steam surround the large fermenters, crystalizers, blenders and baggers. Warehouses are filled with multi-walled 50 pound plastics sacks and hundred-pound fibre drums of Chlortetracycline stacked up in piles like displays at a supermarket.
For people accustomed to thinking of antibiotics in terms of a few cc’s withdrawn from small rubber stoppered bottles for intramuscular injections, the sheer bulk of the antibiotics manufactured by Rachelle (the nation’s second largest manufacturer of Chlortetracycline after American Cyanamid) is overwhelming. As the Rachelle catalogue for Animal Health and Feed Additive Products reminds prospective buyers, minimum orders for most varieties is one ton.
“This is the greatest country in the world in terms of agricultural production,” says Len Zoller, Rachelle Vice-President of the Long Beach plant. “But the way we grow livestock and poultry today, we couldn’t continue to lead the world without broad spectrum antibiotics like Chlortetracycline.”
A production statement, not a health endorsement. And again, it begs the question of how we define food in our country. Currently their are riots in South Korea over the government’s decision to open Korean markets to American beef. The EU regularly bans beef imports from America and routinely turns down attempts to introduce bio-engineered seed into its agricultural markets.
Now that hedge funds have ruined our banking and real estate markets, they have turned to agricultural futures, driving world prices to double on many essential grains and oils. We (and the world outside we) have to a very large degree lost the ability to manage our food supply. I don’t know about you, but I am uncomfortable turning those choices over to Cargill and ConAgra, who burden us with the twin blessings of the greatest country in the world in terms of agricultural production and at the same time, Eldon Roth’s pre-masticated burger patty.
Can you really call that meat?