Suppertime at the Underwood's is loud and a little messy. That's because Keith and Julie's children are only 2 and 3-years-old. To cater to their toddler's taste buds; ground beef is often the meal's main ingredient.
"Our children like the texture of ground beef and will eat it - so we cook with ground beef often," said Keith Underwood, 31, of the lasagna, tacos, burritos, or hamburgers, which are some of his family's favorites.
Although Underwood is certain finely textured lean beef trimmings is frequently mixed into the ground beef they consume, he's not worried about his or his family's health.
Even with all the attention this ingredient has received following the TV show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," during which the show's host, chef, Jamie Oliver, attached the "pink slime" label to finely textured lean beef trimmings - Underwood is not concerned.
The reason he's confident? The SDSU Extension Meat Scientist has first-hand knowledge and has actually visited beef processing plants to watch the product being processed.
"This product is extremely safe, and healthy," he said of the lean ingredient often mixed with other beef trimmings to help processors achieve lean meat targets consumers want.
Textured lean beef trimmings 101
Textured lean beef trimmings is lean meat that is difficult to extract from beef trimmings by hand, so meat processors utilize centrifuge technology to separate the meat from fat. Once it's separated, it becomes a 95 percent lean product. It is then frozen and treated with a small amount of food grade ammonia hydroxide - less than 0.01- which is less than our body produces naturally each day.
"Our body produces ammonia during the digestion and metabolism of proteins. From the information I have on the actual amounts used in processing textured lean beef trimmings - it's far less than what our body produces in a day," Underwood said.
Treating the meat with ammonia is a food safety measure. It raises the pH of the meat to remove any harmful bacteria or pathogenic bacteria that may be present. Another product often used to change the pH of meat is citric acid.
Whether ammonia hydroxide or citric acid is used to change the pH, the food safety measure is safe and does not put consumers at risk, says Underwood.
"I'm not concerned about the safety or the wholesomeness of the product. Any product that has textured lean beef trimmings is a healthy, nutritious and safe source of beef," Underwood said. "In the meat industry, safety is our first concern. The products are highly regulated and all processing plants are inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service."
Joan Hegerfeld-Baker, SDSU Extension Food Safety Specialist agrees with Underwood.
"Ammonia is common to all life forms and naturally occurs in the environment. Ammonia compounds are used in the cosmetics and the food and beverage industry and have been studied for years. The FDA recognizes these products as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe)," Hegerfeld-Baker said. "Ammonia is formed in the human intestinal tract in quantities of about 4 grams per day."
She adds that most ammonia is absorbed back into the body.
"Consider that one beef patty can contain approximately 40 mg of ammonia compounds some of which are naturally occurring. This is equivalent to 0.01% of what your body naturally produces," Hegerfeld-Baker said.