Beef Products Inc., maker of the ground beef filler USDA scientists nicknamed "pink slime," plans to launch a consumer education program aimed to restore confidence in the product it calls lean finely textured beef and the process it uses to sanitize and separate beef from meat scraps formerly used in pet food and cooking oil.
"'Pink slime' doesn't exist," Jeff Carlson of BPI said. "'Pink slime' never existed in any way, shape or form. Our product is 100 percent beef in every regard, from quality to nutrition."
The company held a news conference to say it will remind consumers that the USDA has given its seal of approval to the meat that was in 70 percent of grocery store hamburger until many of the nation's largest grocery stores, responding to consumer concern, removed it from their shelves.
BPI said the product is as "safe and as nutritious as ground beef."
"It has the same nutritional value as any 94-percent lean product that you'd find on the marketplace today," Carlson said.
Critics say BPI, which has won food safety awards for its ammoniating process, overstates the product's similarity to fresh ground beef, because of the process it goes through to separate the meat from the fat and to kill bacteria.
Gerald Zirnstein, the former USDA microbiologist who first used the term "pink slime" and recommended against its inclusion in ground beef, said the first problem is that the BPI process begins with warming the meat scraps just enough so they don't cook but are easier to separate in a centrifuge.
"At that temperature, you increase the level of pathogens and the level of spoilage bacteria," Zirnstein told ABC News. "In order to turn this into a product they can potentially sell as 'meat,' and that's, [in] quotations, 'meat,' they add ammonia."
"Ammonia does two things most people don't realize," Zirnstein said. "In high levels, it does more than just kill the ... pathogens. It also fixes the color of the meat. So the red meat stays pink."
Zirnstein said that is why he coined the phrase, "pink slime."
"If that ammonia wasn't there, if it wasn't added to kill the bacteria, it would also come in as a gray product and you'd have gray slime," he said. "Gray slime!"
The former USDA scientist said that's his main complaint and the reason he recommended against the product's use.
"Because the ammonia fixes the color into a pink color, it can, quote, 'pass' as red meat, but it's a low-quality product going into the ground beef. The public's not aware of it, hasn't been for years. It's not their fault. Nobody told them."
BPI said lean finely textured beef is not labeled because it's just ground beef, and the company objects to it being called an additive.
Zirnstein said it is more than an additive. He calls it "an adulterant."