POSTED: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 12:30pm
UPDATED: Monday, April 30, 2012 - 12:34pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — Edward Mills is an associate professor of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State Iniversity. On this day, he was giving a tour of the meat lab to students in an international agriculture class. He says consumer concerns are misguided.
"This is not a filler - this is beef,” said Mills. “The only thing that is different about it is the form of it, it’s very finely textured."
Beef Products Incorporated is one of the companies that produces lean finely textured beef from fat trim of beef carcasses.
"This is very typical of the fat trim that is sent to rendering. You can see the pieces of ‘lean’ here on the surface."
Mills says in order to recover that "lean", the pieces of fat trim are warmed to body temperature and then minced.
"Once its minced and warmed at about 100 degrees, they are both essentially liquid and can be separated."
Dr. Mills likens the process to separating cream from milk in a dairy. Dairy does that in this centrifuge which spins very fast. In the meat process, the liquid goes into a centrifuge and the lean moves to the outside and the fat floats to the center.
"While you might be able to see individual particles when first minced, those particles get smashed together and get distorted, so it comes off the system kind of looking like a paste."
The paste is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill any bacteria, as required by the USDA.
"In my mind there is no question of the safety of it," stated Mills.
These students are being educated about our food system, but Dr. Mills says that's not the case with most consumers.
"Consumers don't have a real good understanding of the nature of the food system."
Despite the outcry, Dr. Mills says lean finely textured beef will still be used because of its low fat and low cost.
“It’s not going to go away because of its unique character and value."