- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

Restaurant chains and beef processors defended their products’ safety Thursday after a report that an ammonia treatment that was thought to kill harmful germs in meat isn’t as effective as the industry and regulators thought.

The New York Times reported Thursday, citing government and industry records, that E. coli and salmonella were found dozens of times in testing for the federal school lunch program on ammonia-treated beef from Beef Products Inc. The meat was not served.

Fast-food chains McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Holdings Inc. and agricultural conglomerate Cargill Inc. all use the meat in their hamburgers. All said they’ll keep using the meat and that their products are safe.

A spokesman for Beef Products, based in Dakota Dunes, S.D., did not return a message Thursday seeking comment. The company uses a proprietary process that treats beef trimmings with ammonia to kill bacteria.

No illnesses have been linked to Beef Products’ meat.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food chain, tests its products throughout the supply chain, said Susan Forsell, vice president of quality systems at the Oakbrook, Ill.-based company. McDonald’s said it doesn’t plan to change its relationship with the company.

“McDonald’s food-safety and quality-assurance standards are among the highest in the industry,” Ms. Forsell said.

Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said the company plans to continue to work with Beef Products, whose meat it uses in pre-made hamburger patties. He said Cargill does testing beyond standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means requiring certificates that show the meat tests negative for E. coli, along with tests of finished food products.

Burger King uses a “small percentage” of Beef Products Inc.’s beef trimmings in its U.S. hamburgers and does not plan to change that, spokeswoman Denise Wilson said.

She said the company’s suppliers must test products themselves and submit them to Burger King-approved labs for more testing.

USDA officials had endorsed Beef Products’ treatment and said it destroyed E. coli “to an undetectable level.” The agency trusted the method so much that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the public, it exempted Beef Products, the Times reported.

The Beef Products meat has been widely used by restaurants and in products sold in grocery stores. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds last year, the Times said.

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