It is hard to miss the hysteria around so called ‘pink slime’, or to be technically correct , lean finely texturized beef, or LFTB. LFTB is basically meat protein that is recovered from fat trimmings that would have otherwise been lost. In the process of butchering a cow, fat is trimmed away. In trimming, it is hard to get only fat with no meat protein attached. The LFTB process was developed to separate that meat protein from the fat. Ammonium hydroxide is used as a processing aid to keep microbial levels in control.
The meat protein that is generated is finely ground, so it appears more as a paste than what we would call meat. Is it safe? Like any meat product, as long as it is cooked correctly, it is safe. The ammonium hydroxide is a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) chemical and when used at these very low levels, poses no health risk.
The issue is primarily related to the appearance, and once it was dubbed pink slime, it became difficult for consumers to accept. Because of this, many fast food chains discontinued its use (it was added in a small percentage to give more burger for the dollar.) Meat provided for school systems also buy beef with LFTB as a way to keep the cost of food down. Granted, it is not very appealing to look at. But neither are many other food ingredients when seen being used in food production. And, it is a process that recovers value from the byproducts, instead of wasting it.
Dr. Mills of Penn State Animal Science provides some nice comments regarding LFTB.
Here is a link that reviews the safety of ammonium hydroxide.