Expert: Beef industry has made ‘huge changes’ to ensure food safety with lean, finely textured beef

COLLEGE STATION – A Texas A&M University food safety expert said there are three primary misconceptions about lean, finely textured beef.

Dr. Gary Acuff, a Texas AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow and director of the Center for Food Safety at Texas A&M, said consumers are concerned the product is not safe when, in fact, stepped-up food safety controls have been implemented throughout the beef industry over the past decade.

Dr. Gary Acuff, Texas AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow and Director of the Center for Food Safety at Texas A&M University.

“Another concern is the much talked about treatment of LFTB with ammonia gas, which is simply a processing aid and does not affect the technical or functional properties of the product,” Acuff said. “Detractors have also said LFTB is produced from meat scraps, when in fact it is made from lean beef trimmings. A primary problem is people don’t understand how ground meat is made.”

As a result, Acuff said misconceptions have led to “lost jobs and a wasted protein source.”

“The industry has adopted huge changes in the past 10 years to address both sustainability issues and food safety,” he said. “The ammonia that is used in lean, finely textured beef is there to improve food safety and the levels are insignificant. Ammonia is used in many other foods we commonly consume.”

Acuff said ammonium hydroxide has been approved as an additive for breakfast cereals, egg products, seasoning and condiments, as well as wines, as listed on the Codex Alimentarius website http://www.codexalimentarius.net/gsfaonline/additives/details.html?id=380 .

“We produce 4 grams of ammonia in our bodies each day, and the amount of ammonia used to make LFTB safer is really insignificant in comparison,” he said. “We metabolize it through our liver and use it for protein synthesis. It’s part of the life cycle.”

Ultimately, Acuff said it is up to the consumer to decide what purchases they will make.

“The bottom line for all of this is the consumer who makes the final call,” Acuff said. “The real concern is that I hope this is not a model for anything that is not understood and how it will be handled,” he said. “There’s a sense that anything not local isn’t healthy. Bacterial foodborne pathogens like E. coli or salmonella are not affected by distance. Mileage doesn’t factor into it.”

Acuff said he believes experts in both academia and the industry should have an active voice in addressing consumer concerns about lean, finely textured beef.

“We need to be out there talking about it,” he said. “I think as faculty members we need to speak up. If we have knowledge that can help diminish consumer fears, we are not going to solve anything by holding back.”

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