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How a good product gets a bad name

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webmaster | 03/31/12

You sometimes wonder whether the media and the American public in general have the brains to pour sand out of a boot. This is especially true when a news story based on misinformation is accepted by most people as being true.

Take the case of that product called “lean finely textured beef.” If we have eaten hamburger and other ground beef products, particularly frozen ones, over the years, lean finely textured beef may have been part of what we have eaten. If you ate it today, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell it from ground beef, because it is beef.

But in the year 2002, a now unemployed microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, who was working for the United States Department of Agriculture, referred to the product as “pink slime” in an email to colleagues. The email was later released to The New York Times which used it in 2009 for a story on food safety. The product at that time was found perfectly safe.

It consists of beef trimmings that have had most of the fat removed by being put through a centrifuge, and then sterilized by exposing it to ammonium oxide gas to kill any microbes. The gas leaves no taste.

It is produced in a clean environment, it is nutritionally sound, and it helps keep down the cost of the hamburger and other ground meats with which it is mixed.

All that has been confirmed by the USDA, by tours of the plants where it is produced, and by testimonials from people who have used it.

But the company that produces it has nearly been destroyed, primarily because British foodie Jamie Oliver, “The Naked Chef,” began calling it pink slime on his television show.

The product isn’t slime, even though Zirnstein called it that, just because he didn’t like it. He was a USDA microbiologist at the time. If it was bad, why didn’t he do something about it, besides sending secret emails that he thought were funny to friends? The product is 98 percent lean beef, and the USDA continues to approve its use. But the product probably will go away now because of a lie.

How do people fall for this stuff?


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