By Jane Weaver, Deputy health editor
Updated March 9: An online petition urging the government to stop the use of "pink slime" -- the scrape and waste meat products that are treated with ammonium-hydroxide -- in school food has collected almost 20,000 signatures over the last several days.
After reports that school districts around the country were serving kids hamburgers containing up to 15 percent of the processed product known in the meat industry as "Lean Finely Textured Beef', parents and consumers poured online to express their disgust. As of Friday afternoon "pink slime" became the most searched phrase on Google Trends and Twitter users were expressing their disgust on #pinkslime.
Danielle @danzerotti, a self-described "happily married mother of 4, tweeted "Another reason my 4 kids should be glad that I take the time to prepare their lunches at home every day. As much as I complain."
"Pink slime" is bits of meat and muscle salvaged from slaughterhouse floors that are treated with a pink chemical to kill any dangerous pathogens. According to an earlier report by msnbc.com, the unappetizing pink goo is widely used in the food industry as an anti-microbial agent in meats and as a leavener in bread and cake products. It's regulated by the U.S. Agriculture Department, which classifies it as "generally recognized as safe." Nevertheless, McDonald's, have said they are pulling the infamous "pink slime" from their hamburgers.
Although the chemical has been used in ground beef products sold commercially since the 1990s, the sudden concern erupted this week over the USDA's plans to ship 7 million pounds of the processed meat product to schools all over the country. School cafeterias nationwide receive part of the ground beef they serve from the USDA.
The USDA's continued purchase of pink slime for school lunches was first reported Monday by TheDaily.com, which spoke to two former microbiologists at the Food Safety Inspection Service.
"We don't know which districts are receiving what meat, and this meat isn't labeled to show pink slime. They don't have to under federal law," said Bettina Siegal, of TheLunchTray.com earlier this week. Siegal started the petition seeking to ban the ammonia-based waste from school menus. "We should step back and say, 'Why would we feed this to our kid?" said Siegal.
When asked whether the USDA would consider banning "pink slime" from school meat shipments, spokesman Michael Jarvis responded via email: “All USDA ground beef purchases for the National School Lunch Program must meet the highest standards for food safety. This includes stringent pathogen testing and compliance with all applicable food safety regulations. USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce - and especially into schools -- that we have confidence are safe.”
New York nutritionist and msnbc.com contributor Elisa Zied (@elisazied ) said,"people have a right to know what exactly is in their food, so they can make a judgment whether to eat it or not," but shouldn't panic the meat was unsafe just because of the "yuk" factor. "Like with all food, this idea of pink slime in ground beef does speak to the fact that we need to mix up the foods we consume from all the basic food groups to minimize potentially harmful ingredients and maximize nutrient intake," said Zied.
The processed meat reportedly accounts for 70 percent of all ground beef consumed in the U.S.
KPRC contributed to this report