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Ammonia... It's what's for dinner!

Posted by on May. 1, 2012 at 9:14 PM
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Ammonia used in many foods, not just 'pink slime'

Packs of ground beef are seen in a crate at the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market meat processing facility in Riverside
© Alex Gallardo / Reuters  /  REUTERS
Packs of ground beef are seen in a crate at the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market meat processing facility in Riverside, California, March 29, 2012. U.S. meat packers' losses on beef sales have doubled since a controversy over ammonia-treated scraps dubbed "pink slime" exploded some weeks ago, with margins nearing their lowest in at least 22 years, an industry estimate showed. Fresh & Easy says they do not use the ammonia-treated filler in their beef products.
 
REUTERS/Alex Gallardo
By Martinne Geller
updated 4/4/2012 7:25:49 PM ET 2012-04-04T23:25:49

Surprise rippled across America last month as a new wave of consumers discovered that hamburgers often contained ammonia-treated beef, or what critics dub "pink slime."

What they may not have known is that ammonia - often associated with cleaning products - was cleared by U.S. health officials nearly 40 years ago and is used in making many foods, including cheese. Related compounds have a role in baked goods and chocolate products.

Using small amounts of ammonia to make food is not unusual to those expert in high-tech food production. Now that little known world is coming under increasing pressure from concerned consumers who want to know more about what they are eating.

"I think we're seeing a sea change today in consumers' concerns about the presence of ingredients in foods, and this is just one example," said Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety.

Ammonia, known for its noxious odor, became a hot topic last month with the uproar over what the meat industry calls "finely textured beef" and what a former U.S. government scientist first called "pink slime".

Used as a filler for ground beef, it is made from fatty trimmings that are more susceptible to contamination than other cuts of beef, and are therefore sprayed with ammonium hydroxide - ammonia mixed with water - to remove pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli.

After critics highlighted the product on social media websites and showed unappetizing photos on television, calling it "pink slime," the nation's leading fast-food chains and supermarkets spurned the product, even though U.S. public health officials deem it safe to eat. Hundreds of U.S. school districts also demanded it be removed from school lunch programs.

One producer, Beef Products Inc, has since idled three factories. Another, AFA Foods, filed for bankruptcy protection.

The outrage, which many experts say has been fueled by the term "pink slime," seems more about the unsavoriness of the product rather than its safety.

"This is not a health issue," said Bill Marler, a prominent food safety lawyer. "This is an 'I'm grossed out by this' issue."

Still, critics of so-called "Big Food" point out that while "pink slime" and the ammonia in it may not be harmful, consumer shock over their presence points to a wider issue.

NOT AS BAD AS IT SOUNDS?

The meat industry has been trying to raise awareness of other foods that contain ammonia, in response to what it has characterized as an unfair attack on a safe and healthy product.

For example, ammonia compounds are used as leavening agents in baked goods and as an acidity controller in cheese and sometimes chocolate.

"Ammonia's not an unusual product to find added to food," Gary Acuff, director of Texas A&M University's Center for Food Safety, told a recent press conference hosted by Beef Products Inc. "We use ammonia in all kinds of foods in the food industry."

Kraft Foods Inc, whose brands include Chips Ahoy cookies and Velveeta cheese, is one company that uses very small amounts of ammonium compounds in some of its products.

"Sometimes ingredient names sound more complicated than they are," said Kraft spokeswoman Angela Wiggins. She also pointed out that ammonia, made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, occurs naturally in plants, animals, water, air and in some foods, including milk.

Wiggins said that in turning milk to cheese, a tiny amount of ammonium hydroxide is added to a starter dairy culture to reduce the culture's acidity and encourage cheese cultures to grow.

"It is somewhat similar to activating yeast for dough by adding warm water, sugar and salt to create the proper environment for yeast growth," Wiggins said.

In the case of ammonium phosphate, used as a leavening agent in baking, she said the heat during baking causes the gas to evaporate so no ammonia is left in the product. "It is quite similar to adding wine to a sauce and cooking away the alcohol."

Compounds such as ammonium hydroxide, ammonium phosphate and ammonium chloride are considered safe in small amounts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted ammonium hydroxide status as a GRAS, or Generally Recognized as Safe, substance in 1974.

Ammonium hydroxide is also an acceptable ingredient under the conditions of "good manufacturing practices" in dozens of foods, from soft drinks to soups to canned vegetables, according to the General Standards for Food Additives set forth by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a group funded by the World Health Organization and the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization.

A trip to the grocery store revealed ammonium chloride - a salt - present in Wonder Bread and Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli, made by ConAgra Foods. Ammonium phosphate, another type of salt, is listed on Chips Ahoy cookies.

But ammonium hydroxide, the chemical often used to sanitize the "pink slime," was harder to find.

That is because it is often considered a "processing aid," which is not required by U.S. regulators to be included on food labels.

"If it helps facilitate a process, it's not required and (if) it's used at a percent less than 1 percent, it doesn't have to be declared on the label," said Roger Clemens, president of the Institute of Food Technologists and chief scientific officer of E.T. Horn Co, a private chemical and ingredient company.

He said ammonia in food is now being used less than before, as replacement products gain popularity.

When asked if their products were made with ammonium hydroxide, Sara Lee Corp, Hormel Foods, Kellogg and ConAgra said they were not.

Hershey said it uses "natural cocoa" in most of its chocolates, but in the few products that use "alkalized cocoa," it uses potassium carbonate, not ammonium hydroxide.

General Mills said the company does not discuss its production processes. Campbell Soup Co did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

 
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by on May. 1, 2012 at 9:14 PM
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Replies (1-10):
vannadahlia
by on May. 2, 2012 at 9:48 AM
1 mom liked this

Im happy I am a vegitarian hahaha

jridgill
by Member on May. 2, 2012 at 9:49 AM
Yummmmmy
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
Janet
by Ruby Member on May. 2, 2012 at 9:59 AM

 Wish I could afford organic.

goddess99
by Michelle on May. 2, 2012 at 3:00 PM

eww

L1558
by on May. 2, 2012 at 3:11 PM

I work in a cubicle next to a grocery-store meat director. 

The name is probably the worst part of this; there are food-safe ammonias that frequently are used to rinse foods. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but this isn't exactly new.

McM0609
by Member on May. 2, 2012 at 3:24 PM
Same here.


Quoting Janet:

 Wish I could afford organic.


Posted on CafeMom Mobile
jltplk25
by Gold Member on May. 2, 2012 at 5:59 PM
Yep. I totally agree.

The human body also produces ammonia...its turned into urea and then expelled out of the body. Thats old news as well but no ones up in arms iver that. Lol


Quoting L1558:

I work in a cubicle next to a grocery-store meat director. 

The name is probably the worst part of this; there are food-safe ammonias that frequently are used to rinse foods. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but this isn't exactly new.

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
LovemyQ
by on May. 2, 2012 at 8:41 PM

Because the body sees it as a toxin and expells it. we aren't drinking it.

Quoting jltplk25:

Yep. I totally agree.

The human body also produces ammonia...its turned into urea and then expelled out of the body. Thats old news as well but no ones up in arms iver that. Lol


Quoting L1558:

I work in a cubicle next to a grocery-store meat director. 

The name is probably the worst part of this; there are food-safe ammonias that frequently are used to rinse foods. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but this isn't exactly new.


jltplk25
by Gold Member on May. 2, 2012 at 9:52 PM
Yes, i know that.

Quoting LovemyQ:

Because the body sees it as a toxin and expells it. we aren't drinking it.

Quoting jltplk25:

Yep. I totally agree.



The human body also produces ammonia...its turned into urea and then expelled out of the body. Thats old news as well but no ones up in arms iver that. Lol




Quoting L1558:

I work in a cubicle next to a grocery-store meat director. 

The name is probably the worst part of this; there are food-safe ammonias that frequently are used to rinse foods. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but this isn't exactly new.


Posted on CafeMom Mobile
L1558
by on May. 3, 2012 at 8:29 AM

and we aren't drinking this, either. You can rinse off the meat before cooking, and cooking it well usually kills off any bodily threats it could pose.

Like I said, though, it's more sensationalism in the name. Meat today is actually passed through more inspections and more rigorous checks than it used to be. There are also options of organic, free range, hormone-free, and usually most good brands will not use solutions or colorants. Look for those that keep the meat as natural as possible. Your risks go up the more processed it is: meaning, raw, bone-in chicken breasts, versus shaped & breaded chicken nuggets. 

That's just what I found out through work and reading up. I am not saying "food safe ammonia" sounds delish; just that it's nothing new, and if you want to avoid it, hey- no problem.

Quoting jltplk25:

Yes, i know that.

Quoting LovemyQ:

Because the body sees it as a toxin and expells it. we aren't drinking it.

Quoting jltplk25:

Yep. I totally agree.



The human body also produces ammonia...its turned into urea and then expelled out of the body. Thats old news as well but no ones up in arms iver that. Lol




Quoting L1558:

I work in a cubicle next to a grocery-store meat director. 

The name is probably the worst part of this; there are food-safe ammonias that frequently are used to rinse foods. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but this isn't exactly new.



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