April 4, 2012 -
Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) Commissioner Gary W. Black today held a press conference to address public concern relating to one of the nation’s hot food safety topics, referred to as Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) in the food industry.
“As the official regulatory agency for the state, the Department wants Georgians to know that one of our utmost priorities is food safety,” Commissioner Black said. “Our great nation operates as a free market and it is our goal to educate Georgians so that they may make informed decisions about the foods they purchase for themselves and their families.”
Glen Echols, Director of the GDA Meat Inspection Section (GMIS), provided the overview. GMIS regulates ground beef production in all state-inspected establishments in Georgia, following federal guidelines.
“The production process used to produce LFTB was developed more than 30 years ago and the product is widely used in many major beef processing facilities in the U.S.,” Echols said, noting Georgia currently has no state-licensed establishments utilizing LFTB in production. “The mechanical process allows the recovery of more lean muscle tissue per carcass, resulting in higher yields of product; the end result is a leaner ground beef that costs less for consumers.”
Ammonium hydroxide, the additive used in LFTB processing, was approved in 1974 and is used today in a variety of food products, including baked goods and confectionaries. In ground beef production, the additive is used in gaseous form to increase pH levels and kill pathogens such as E. coli, which can cause food borne illnesses.
Echols noted that if the U.S. were to end this practice in ground beef production entirely, in addition to job losses, beef prices would likely increase due to decreased carcass yields during processing and less ground beef available to meet the current market demands. As the global population continues to rise, these are important facts to consider.
“The connotation of eating LFTB has left many consumers questioning the ground beef products they consume, but there are no human health hazards associated with it. The fact is, this process aids in keeping ground beef lower in fat and at lower risk for pathogens,” Commissioner Black said. “There are many options for consumers at the grocery store, including ground beef with and without LFTB. We’d like to help consumers understand the process and remind them this is a personal choice, not a food safety issue.”
GDA Meat Inspection Section - “Lean Finely Textured Beef” Fact Sheet
Lean Finely Textured Beef, what is it?
· The product is the result of a mechanical food process, which recovers small particles of lean muscle from fatty trim that would otherwise be unrecoverable without a highly labor-intensive manual process
· The process used to recover this product was approved several years ago by USDA/FSIS; the finished product is used by many federal establishments at varying percentages of mixture
· LFTB products prevent the waste of valuable, lean, nutritious and safe beef by using technology to do what hands cannot
How does Georgia oversee ground meat processing?
· In order for Georgia to maintain a state meat inspection program, we must have a program that is deemed “equal to” the FSIS program
· FSIS reviews nine different program components annually to assure our program compliance; Meat Inspection regulations are one of those nine components and must be “equal to” the federal regulations
· Georgia Meat Inspection Section (GMIS) regulations pertaining to product standards of identity or composition was adopted from the Code of Federal Regulations and is identical to federal standards
True or False?
· Beef products are currently labeled to denote the use of LFTB. FALSE - Because it is 100 percent beef, LFTB is not singled out as a separate ingredient on labels.
· There is no data to support that the LFTB process makes our food safer. FALSE – The number of USDA ground beef samples testing positive for E. coli dropped 55 percent from 2000 and 2010; LFTB products have been part of that success.
· LFTB benefits ground beef production by creating higher yields of product per carcass. TRUE – If LFTB were eliminated, it would require approximately 1.5 million additional head of cattle to fill the ground beef gap that would be created; this at a time when cattle numbers in the U.S. have declined 2 percent in the past year and are at the lowest level since 1952.
· Ammonium hydroxide is used as a processing aid in LFTB products. TRUE - Food grade ammonium hydroxide (basically ammonia and water) is used in a number of products and can be used in the processing of beef, which helps control any harmful bacteria that may be present.