« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Published May 21 2012

Man who coined term ‘pink slime’ says it came to him in spur of the moment

NEW YORK — “Pink slime” was almost “pink paste” or “pink goo.”

The microbiologist who coined the term for lean finely textured beef ran through a few iterations in his head before he decided to send an email about the filler to a co-worker at the U.S. Department of Agriculture a decade ago. Then, the name hit him like heartburn after a juicy burger.

“It's pink. It's pasty. And it's slimy looking. So I called it ‘pink slime,’” said Gerald Zirnstein, the former meat inspector at the USDA. “It resonates, doesn't it?”

The pithy description fueled an uproar that resulted in the main company behind the filler, Beef Products Inc., deciding to close three meat plants this month. The controversy over the filler, which is made of fatty bits of beef that are heated and treated with ammonium to kill bacteria, shows how a simple nickname can forever change an entire industry.

In fact, the beef filler had been used for decades before the nickname came about. But most Americans didn't know — or care — about it before Zirnstein's vivid moniker was quoted in a 2009 article by The New York Times on the safety of meat processing methods.