CacheCrazy.Com: March 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WHY NOT WEDNESDAY - Pink Slime - What is it?

I do more than Geocache (as most of you know) and school lunch is my thing. You have to read this blog post by See Arr Oh

Pink Slime, Deconstructed

“I don’t eat school lunch anyway . . . It looks weird.”
BPI / The Atlantic
BPI / The Atlantic
This is from a high school student, quoted in the New York Times over the weekend, in response to a seemingly “beefless” future in school cafeterias. Most of the recent media outcry surrounds “pink slime,” the low-fat filler used to bulk up many processed meats. Coverage focuses on schools, where parents and administrators alike worry about students’ exposure to “chemically-treated” foodstuffs and poorly-labeled processed meat.
The low-cost, nutritious school lunch has long been an American institution. Smaller school budgets and larger student populations have led to schools cutting costs wherever possible. When industrial beef producers suggested a newer, cheaper meat alternative back in the early ‘90s, cash-strapped school districts happily agreed.
In 2010, Michael Moss of the New York Times won a Pulitzer for reports probing the processing end of the beef industry. He was among the first to explore the sterilization process, microbial testing, and potential contamination recalls over the past decade. Today, more journalists, along with celebrity chefs, moms, and school officials have all taken up torches and pitchforks against “pink slime”. Online articles address a myriad of questions: Where does this product come from, and where does it end up? Is it OK to eat? Why aren’t all the ingredients labeled? How is it made, anyway?
But thus far, no one has really satiated my curiosity…what, exactly, is “pink slime?”
What Pink Slime Is, and What It’s Not
Let’s address the name – there’s undeniably an “‘ick factor’…ever heard anyone use [slime] in a positive way?” (Borrowing a pithy phrase from Deborah Blum, who covered the subject for Discover Blogs)
Well, if you come from the meat producers’ camp, you instead refer to “slime” as lean, finely-textured beef, or LFTB. Connective tissue, trimmings, and scraps from industrial butcher plants are mixed in a large steel reactor, where technicians heat the mixture to 100 oF, initiating tissue lysis – fats and oils begin to rise up, while thicker bits like protein sink. After a spin on the centrifuge to separate these components, lean, squishy pink goo emerges. Ammonium hydroxide – ammonia dissolved partially in water – sterilizes the resulting mass against microbes such as E. coli or Salmonella. (Side Note: a similar product, finely textured beef, uses citric acid in place of ammonia to eliminate pathogens). Once extruded, the “slime” can be blended into hamburger, hot dogs, and other products, or frozen into pellets for shipping and storage.
But, is it nutritious? Consumers can certainly make valid arguments regarding LFTB’s content: there’s less overall “functional” protein than that found in other meat products. An analysis conducted at Iowa State University (A.S. Leaflet R1361) found two-and-a-half times more insoluble protein (77% vs. 30%) relative to soluble proteins in ordinary ground chuck. Nutritionally, our gut bacteria digest much of what we cannot, but there’s a good bet that we can’t get as much value from insoluble proteins (collagen and elastin, found largely in tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) as from their soluble siblings (myosin and actin, usually associated with muscle tissues). While these proteins may be hard to digest, on the plus side, there’s less fat in LFTB (~5%) than standard ground chuck (15-20%).
For those revolted by these contents, or even the thought of anything referred to as “slime” crossing their plates, I have two comments: first, consider Jell-O. The packaging only lists a single ingredient, which reads: gelatin. If you were to tell a child that “gummy worms” and other wobbly treats were made from steamed animal bones, would they really want dessert?
Second, consider checking the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the U.S. Gov’t standards used to coordinate aspects of daily life ranging from taxes to farming. In 9CFR 301.2, a collection of terms used in the meat packaging industry, we see the following definition for meat:
The part of the muscle of any cattle, sheep, swine, or goats, which is skeletal or which is found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus, with or without the accompanying or overlying fat, and the portions of bone…skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the muscle tissue, and are not separated from it in the process of dressing.”
Pretty gruesome reading, true, but realize that this explanation covers everything bought at the butcher, so think carefully when considering catch-all meat products like grounds, mush, pastes, or loaves. In this light, “slime” doesn’t seem half as bad; as a culture, we’ve implicitly agreed that throat, blood, and tendons are already on the menu.
Ammonia and Other Additives
Since we’re checking the CFR, let’s consider all the other approved meat additives we encounter there. Mosey on over to 9CFR 424.21 to find a table, no less than 20 pages in length, of all the allowable additives used in meat processing: tenderizers, emulsifiers, denuders, binders, bleaching agents, and sweeteners, all on display for the discerning diner’s palate. Compared to “pink slime” seeing only brief ammonia exposure, I’m more inclined to be suspicious of sausage.
Speaking of additives, what about the ammonium hydroxide? As Blum points out, you’ve eaten it before: close molecular cousins ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) and ammonium phosphate [(NH4)3PO4] are found in licorice and breads, respectively. Plant proteins like pectins and glutens are commonly treated with ammonia for various food applications. I’m less concerned with the ammonia treatment, but more with just how much ammonia a single batch of LFTB requires to make it “safe.” Levels high enough to raise the product pH to about 9.00 rid the beef of most virulent microorganisms, but batches tested by the New York Times back in 2009 showed pH levels as low as 7.75. So what, that’s not a huge difference, right? The pH scale tracks logarithmically, so a one unit variance actually corresponds to 10 times less ammonia, which might reduce odor but also increases potential bacterial contamination.
Contrary to some news reports, ammonia is not a “pink chemical,” it’s colorless. Nor does the level of ammonia in meat even approach that found in floor cleaners. For my money, a more worrisome butcher’s helper comes from an entirely different source – carbon monoxide, which when applied to beef binds to the myoglobin and causes the tissue to develop the reassuring pink color consumers associate with freshness and quality.
One last safety note – perhaps the few examples of contamination detected really areoutliers. Click here for the 40-page USDA checklist meat producers must complete to assess their sterilization measures. This document addresses all production activities, including testing regimens, sampling size, antiseptic washes, lot documentation, and cross-contamination checks. USDA even establishes a maximum target of 0.2% for lot checking; or a tolerance of 2 per thousand lots produced with positive tests (in 2007, positive tests had crept up too high, and USDA cracked down. Higher numbers of failed tests were also noted in Moss’s 2009 Times article). Surprisingly, a chart buried near the middle (p.13) of the checklist indicates that processed beef has alower overall risk of bacterial contamination relative to standard raw beef.
“That’s the thing…it isn’t freaking labeled.”
Healthy food, healthy kid; USDA
Healthy food, healthy kid; USDA
Microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein, a meat industry critic and the man whose 2002 email inadvertently coined the term “pink slime,” delivered this rebuttal in a Reuters interview this past weekend. Under current regulations, LFTB does not have to be disclosed separately on labels, with the caveat that USDA allows a 15% maximum of the stuff in any product. However, a generation of parents accustomed to fighting high-fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes argue for inclusion of, at least, ammonia in the final ingredient list. Since manufacturers (and the USDA) consider this a production step, it, too, doesn’t need to be discretely mentioned.
So, besides loose labeling and chemical treatment, what is it about this processed meat that so unnerves customers? Certainly, it doesn’t look like a traditional cut anymore, but then neither does hamburger. The “slime” moniker doesn’t help matters, nor its public unfamiliarity – slicing animals into sections has a long history in human culture, but secondary processing of the remains is more recent. Blame cultural context: while steaks, chops, and ribs are on menus everywhere, LFTB is not. Perhaps we haven’t had time to adapt. Yet processed food still fills a necessary societal role – it’s widely available, inexpensive, and can be fortified with nutrients and vitamins.
But is LFTB really food anymore? I would say yes, in the same way those byproducts from any other organism that we consume are. Surely, most people realize that we set our table every day thanks to the labors of other life forms: honey, from bee regurgitation, yogurt, from bacterial metabolism, and multiple cheeses from calf enzymes (rennets) or via fungal decomposition. Cochineal, a crimson dye still used to color meat products (9CFR, p. 624), comes from the dried, crushed bodies of millions of tiny insects. But, compared to insects and microbes, cows hit closer to home somehow, so we revolt at a meat byproduct we don’t recognize.
So, for my final thoughts: to the beef industry, clearer labeling and heightened public awareness would help to quash some of the squeamishness at LFTB’s inclusion in the food pantheon. And to the schools and parents, well-documented and tested LFTB doesn’t seem to be much more harmful, albeit less nutritious, than the Jell-O we already serve at dessert.
Enjoy your school lunch. Bon app├ętit!
Note: the top image replaced on 3/28/2012.
See Arr OhAbout the Author: See Arr Oh is a medicinal chemist working in industry. He enjoys a burger, from time to time. See Arr Oh blogs at Just Like Cooking and contributes to several other blogs, including Chemjobber, Totally Synthetic, and CENtral Science’s The Haystack and Newscripts Follow on Twitter @seearroh.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Gov. Branstad and U.S. Ag Sec. Tom Vilsack hold press conf

WHY NOT WEDNESDAY - If You Go Down To The Woods Today

Dave's awesome post from last Friday on genealogy had me going through some old, old stuff looking for something and I bumped into this. I am not exactly sure where I got this from but, I know I have had it for a long time. Even before I geocached I was interested in what it was. I remember coming across this in an archive (well before RSS feeds and readers) and I made the copies and scanned them to a disk, a floppy disk, remember them? I am recycling two old laptops (it's also amazing how they have changed) and purged the information on the drives and copied over the disks. Some very interesting stuff there, lol.....
Check out this geocaching article from The Times of London on Dec 15, 2003.

  Click on the images for easier reading
Article written by Damian Whitworth 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dodger Lizard Crew

This is why I can’t get out geocaching anymore:

- Transplanting an enormous number of Alberta Spruce trees;

- Painting the living room;

- Managing my daughter’s t-ball team (thrilled to do it, but why isn’t Little League played in the summer????);

- Working my regular job;

- Cleaning the yard;

- Teaching CCD;

- Running;

- Trying to get ready for spring turkey season;

- Taking care of two kids;

- Juggling between my job, my wife’s job, and my wife’s part-time job while taking care of two kids;

- Trying to get ready for the opening day of trout season;

- Trying to get ready for Easter;

- Trying to keep the house somewhat clean and orderly;

- Tax return (Geez, I did this last year after all – cut a guy a break already…);

- Cleaning, staining and assembling a used swing set (Remember that bashed shin???);

…And every other day-to-day chore….
…But that’s life, friends!  I wouldn’t change it for the world.  A good buddy once told me something that has stuck with me for many years now – "The more you have to do, the more you get done."  It is true, isn’t it???
This year’s spring milestones:
- First woodcock courtship flight – March 5, 2012
- First robin sighting – March 6, 2012
- First spring peeper sounds – March 12, 2012 (I know others heard them earlier, but that was the first time for me this year…)
- First turkey gobble – March 25, 2012 (Same as above…)
Geocaches I have my eye on for when the calendar clears:
- General Trexler’s Geocache (See our DNF from a week or so ago…)
- Out of Focus (Our blogging and geocaching buddy Smithie is a damn genius!  You all are gonna be cursing me for showing you this one...)
- Windmill Hunting in the Barrens (We’ve heard this story enough times, but I am now honorary CO, and that Stage 4 seems to be a constant problem…)
- ANY cache in Florida (DLC's going to Disney World, baby!  Stay tuned...)
- In addition, we’re trying to get the big gang together again this year to tackle another cache of epic proportions.
- AND – I almost hate to say it because it’s just so brilliant – but I’m conjuring up a real cool hide of DLC proportions!  Can't wait!

Rock on,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Excerpts From" Arizona's Oldest Cache

Another awesome post from the series "Excerpts from" Arizona's Oldest Cache, enjoy!

Yesterday I met up with fellow Geocaching Blogger GeoNarcissa. I was our fist time meeting and we got along great. It's always nice to meet internet friends in "real life." ;-)

I woke up bright and early and made my way north to Phoenix to pick her up. Besides a break for brunch at her friends house and dinner at Chili's, we cached all day! We had 17 finds and only one DNF. It turns out the DNF was determined missing by the cache owner the same day.


The highlight of the day was definitely Arizona's oldest cache. The hike was roughly 1.5 miles and with a handful of caches along the way, it took us about 3 hours round trip.

We spent some time looking at the cache owner's note and the logs.

3/21/10 Arizona

I love that this is nearly 10 years old and still out in the desert. I also got a kick out of him calling it his "GPS Stash."

The first few logs interesting too... The game has changed a lot since 2000. Some of the items left would be frowned upon now and you don't see any of the TFTC SL TNLN type lingo. They signed with there real names too. I guess the nicknames hadn't caught on yet.

This is definitely a cache I'll remember doing! I'm so glad we decided to make our way out there! You must grab this one if you are in AZ!

What's the oldest cache you've found?

Profile for ErikaJean
What is Geocaching? Answer here.
See this post on Erika's blog

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Other Passion

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not out caching every waking hour of the day.  Yes, I go through periods where I probably would if I could get away with it, but in all reality, I do other things from time to time.  All of our great authors here at seem to have something, outside of geocaching, for which they have a similar passion.  For example, we've read several mouth-watering recipes from the kitchen of Bloodhounded.  Dodger Lizard Crew has shared tales from his hunting experiences at Francis Walter Dam.  Then there's Big Al, and the stories he's been grateful to share from trips, from all over God's Creation, that he's been fortunate enough to make.  Today I'd like to share my OTHER passion: genealogy.

For those who are unfamiliar, genealogy is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history.  To be honest, I can't pinpoint when, or how, I became interested in genealogy.  My best guess would be I learned about it in Boy Scouts.  I do, however, know my inspiration.  Before she passed away in 1996, my Aunt Helen once told me a story of her (and my mother's) Uncle Pat.  Both Aunt Helen and my mother would tell tales of Uncle Pat visiting them as children, living in Taylor.  Being older, Aunt Helen was able to give a better overall description of the guy.  In a nutshell, he was a short, stocky Irishman who brandished a shillelagh, and as such, was quite the intimidating character.  More importantly, Aunt Helen claimed through Uncle Pat we were related to a family of notoriety in the Scranton area, which includes a former mayor and famous philanthropist.  Unfortunately, none of this was documented, and Uncle Pat passed away in the 1950's, so asking him about it was out of the question.  Also, we didn't know who his children were or what happened to his widow.  Sounds like a bona fide mystery to me.  I was hooked!

I went to the local bookstore, and purchased a book on how to start your family research.  I did the interviews they suggested with family members.  I quickly filled in the first few generations on the family tree, filling in the blanks with what I knew from the oral history I was able to pen.  It was there I realized the inevitable stone wall I was going to hit:  I have a very common last name, and most of my father's family history had been destroyed years ago.  For the first few years, I concentrated on my mother's side.  As a novice, I'd have better luck weeding out an uncommon Irish name.  Also, I could walk to the library which housed many of the records I needed.  To date, I've traced most of my mother's lineage back to either Ireland or Germany, within the last 200 years.

Almost ten years after I started my family history research, I was able to break through the stone wall which was my father's side.  A chance e-mail from a lady claiming to have knowledge of the family I was researching helped me fill in crucial gaps, and the research of my father's side really took off.  Today I probably have about 2,000 names listed on my family tree, some with a closer relationship than others.

Here's a few cool things I've learned about myself, and my family:

  • My father always claimed he was Pennsylvania Dutch.  I've never found any evidence to support this.
  • My paternal great-great grandfather was in the Civil War, and injured in the Battle of Spotsylvania, 21 May, 1864.
  • My father's grandfather's sister had a grandson who married Aunt Helen's husband's grandmother's sister.  My parents are 12 years apart, and grew up in different areas of the state.  Small world, huh?
  • Said relative in the point above married into the Kresge family of Albrightsville, PA.  A well-known descendant of that clan is Sebastian S. Kresge, who earned his fame by opening a chain of 5 and 10 stores, the S.S. Kresge 5 and 10.  Today we know that chain by a different name- Kmart.
  • The same relative had a daughter who married into a family who also has a well-known descendant, William Jennings Bryant.

Obligatory geocaching tie-in:
My great-grandfather's grave.  GC2HE38, The Book's Secret, is 20' from the grave.

In 2007, I located Uncle Pat.  He's buried in Seattle, Washington.  Someday, I hope to visit his grave and pay my respects.


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