By PETER HUSSMANN
Newton school officials said today that the district will continue to use beef products it receives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its school lunch program that may contain lean, finely textured beef following Gov. Terry Branstad's plea to superintendents across the state on Friday that they continue to use the product that is derisevely known as "pink slime."
Cristy Croson, food service supervisor for the Newton schools, said that at this time the district plans to continue to use the product that some grocers and restaurants have now discontinued due to the public outcry.
Croson noted, however, that information from the USDA provided to schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) shows that only a small percentage of the product provided to schools may contain the lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) and that it is completely safe.
"Since the early 1990s, LFTB has been allowed as a component of the ground beef purchased by USDA for distribution through the NSLP," the USDA states. "The maximum allowable percentage of LFTB that my be formulated into single servings of the ground beef purchased for the NSLP is 15 percent, which is similar to the composition found in many commercially available ground beef products. USDA does not purchase LFTB directly, Rather, LFTB may be used as a raw material in USDA-purchased ground beef products after it undergoes stringent testing. Of the ground beef purchased by USDA in 2011 for the NSLP, LFTB comprised approximately 6.5 percent of the total volume."
The USDA also addressed consumer concerns about the process utilized to make LFTB.
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) considers ammonium hydroxide as 'generally recognized as safe,'" the information states. "FSIS reviewed the suitability of Beef Products, Inc.'s use of ammonium hydroxide in order to assess its effectiveness in performing the intended technical purpose of use, at the lowest level necessary, and to ensure that the product is not adulterated or misleading to consumers.
"All USDA beef purchases for the NSLP and other federal food and nutrition assistance programs meet very high food safety standards, which include stringent pathogen testing. Beef supplied by BPI as a component of the beef products purchased by USDA for NSLP is subject to the same strict pathogen testing requirements for beef raw ingredients."
The USDA purchases just 20 percent of the products served in school lunches across the country with the majority provided to schools through private vendors.
The governor's letter to Iowa school superintendents was prompted by the USDA's action allowing schools to choose whether they will continue serving the beef products provided through the NSLP to school children.