Hawaii public schools uncertain about ground beef filler options

Pink slime worries prompt USDA to allow schools to opt out

Published  1:04 PM HST Mar 12, 2012
HONOLULU -

For the second day, officials with the United States Department of Agriculture were on conference calls with food service departments from across the country.

 Their questions were triggered by a USDA announcement that would allow schools to opt out of ammonium-hydroxide-treated beef filler, known as lean finely textured beef. 

Students are back at school this week and parents are still wondering if the ground beef filler or pink slime as its being called, is really something to worry about.

"We don't want to see this on the kid’s menu. I don’t think so," said Tausagi Leia who has twin daughters who attend public school. "It looks kind weird. It really doesn't look like meat."

School officials said Monday they don't know how much of the finely textured lot fat beef additive is in what's served to students.

However, last week Food Service Director Glenna Wong said she believed that only 7 percent of the finely textured beef was being served in the Hawaii school lunch program.

University of Hawaii professors in the Department of Human Nutrition and Food and Animal Science don’t believe there is cause for concern.

They say the pink slime uproar is probably an over-reaction.

"I think it is a safe product. I don’t think we have to worry about it too much in Hawaii because we are not producing it," said UH associate professor Brent Buckey.

The low-fat filler is made of scraps of beef that has been exposed to ammonium hydroxide which acts as an anti-bacterial agent.

"Yes, ammonium-hydroxide sounds horrible," said Buckley.

"It's the image. It sounds spooky. It's not. It’s perfectly safe," said associate professor Alan Titchenal.

The USDA has told the DOE it can opt out of serving beef with the additive starting next year.

But some of Hawaii schools year start in July, earlier than most mainland schools.

"What you will find is there is no labeling requirement for this additive, so it can be difficult to discuss. But we can say here in Hawaii we serve very nutritious meals and we are in fact ahead of the nation in meeting the USDA's nutritional guidelines," said DOE spokeswoman Sandy Goya.

At this point it’s unclear what kind of financial impact using an alternative to the ground beef filler might be.

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