Chef Jamie Oliver may have won the battle with McDonald's in 2011, over their use of ammonium hydroxide, but he has yet to win the war. Although McDonald's stated that the company would discontinue using ammonium hydroxide in their hamburger recipe, it's still unclear if they are using the trimmings that turn into the so-called "pink slime." What's more, ammonium hydroxide is still used throughout food production.
Since Oliver's TV series Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution premiered in March 2010 on ABC, he has brought attention to the food industry's gross production techniques, and how these processes interfere with children's health.
Using his series as a platform, Oliver has called McDonald's food "unfit for consumption." He exposed the "pink-slime process," which involves grinding all of the unwanted trimmings and fat from the beef, washing it in ammonium hydroxide — these parts of the meat apparently have the most bacteria — then using it as hamburger filler, according to Documentary Lovers. He even said that it's in at least 70 percent of products. "That kind of puts it. ... Everywhere."
"Basically, we're taking a product that would be sold in the cheapest way for dogs, and after this process, is being given to human beings," Oliver said on the show. "Why would any sensible human being put meat filled with ammonia in the mouths of their children?"
In the 2011 statement, McDonald's said:
"Burgers are at the heart of the Golden Arches, and the fact is, McDonald's USA serves 100% USDA-inspected beef- no preservatives, no fillers, no extenders- period.
"For a number of years prior to 2011, to assist with supply, McDonald's USA used some lean beef trimmings treated with ammonia in our burgers. We were among other food retailers who used this safe product.
"At the beginning of 2011, we made a decision to stop using this ingredient. It has been out of the McDonald's USA supply chain since August of 2011. We wanted to be consistent with our global beef supply chain and we're always evolving our practices."
What Is Ammonium Hydroxide And Is It Dangerous?
Ammonium hydroxide is a colorless liquid chemical solution that is essentially ammonia dissolved in water. Found in cleaning solutions, it's also used in much higher concentrations to kill dangerous bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, in food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified it as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) substance in 1974, saying that "concentrations of ammonia and ammonium compounds normally present in food do not suggest a health risk; ammonia and ammonium ions are recognized to be integral components of normal metabolic processes."
The NY State Department of Health says that ammonia "serves as a precursor for amino acid and nucleotide synthesis." But even though they're part of our biological processes, the FDA imposed limits. Foods such as puddings, gelatins, cheeses, and baked goods may all be processed with ammonium hydroxide as long as concentrations are within the limits of 0.6-0.8 percent. Other ammonia-based compounds are also used to treat condiments, relishes, non-alcoholic beverages, and reconstituted vegetables. By comparison, concentrations of ammonia solutions in household cleaning products are between five and 10 percent and up to 25 percent in products made for industrial use.
"Ammonia's not an unusual product to find added to food," Gary Acuff, director of Texas A&M University's Center for Food Safety, said, at a press conference hosted by Beef Products Inc. last year. "We use ammonia in all kinds of foods in the food industry."
Kraft foods, maker of Chips Ahoy and Velveeta cheese have also used small amounts of ammonium hydroxide — it helps to balance acidity in chocolates and cheeses, according to Reuters.
Oliver explains that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA consider this meat "washing" to be a "component in a production procedure," rather than an ingredient in the meat, and because of this, consumers don't have to know that their food has been treated with it.
While it's important to know what processes our food goes through, and especially what's inside, it's also important to refrain from exaggerating. Regardless, Oliver's campaign raised awareness to the idea that many people don't want the, dirtiest, cheapest, throwaway parts of the meat.
You can check out the scene in which Oliver describes the process, albeit with some exaggeration, below.