Updated 4:40 p.m.
(CBS/AP) The "pink slime" saga continues, but is the meat byproduct soon on its way out? Several of the largest supermarket chains in the country announced this week that they would drop the ammonia-treated meat with the colorful nickname from their shelves.
Now major chains including BJ's Wholesale Club and Giant Food Stores are following suit, with Wal-Mart also announcing it plans to carry alternatives to the controversial meat products. N.Y.-based grocery chain Wegmans announced Friday it would phase out the product.
The low-cost ingredient is made from fatty meat trimmings left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella. The pejorative nickname came from a federal microbiologist who who is critical of the product.
"BJ's is eliminating boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) or "pink slime" from our offering," company spokesperson Ashley Prescott, told HealthPop. "Members will be able to purchase BLBT-free offerings by April 7 for fresh ground beef and April 20 for frozen ground beef."
Giant Food Stores LLC based in Carlisle, Pa. on Thursday also said it would halt sales of products, citing questions and concerns raised by hundreds of customers as the impetus for the move, which will affect the 144 Giant stores in Pennsylvania and the 39 Martin's food stores it owns in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Wegmans based in Rochester N.Y. has 79 stores located around the northeast.
Wegmans Food Markets chief executive Danny Wegman said Friday that the store is responding to customer concerns caused by "sensationalism" over the product. It's not removing supplies of ground beef from its 79 stores, but will transition as beef without the additive becomes available from the supplier. He says the timeline's being determined.
Giant spokesman Chris Brand says customers felt pink slime "was not something that they wanted to purchase."
And Giant customers don't appear to be alone. Supermarket chains Supervalu, Food Lion and Safeway Inc., said Wednesday they will no longer carry ground beef that contains the filler because of customer concerns. This includes stores under the Acme, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher's, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw's/Star Market, Shop 'n Save, Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, Bloom, Harveys, Reid's, Food Lion, Genuardi's, Dominicks and Safeway names,reported.
Kroger Co., the nation's largest traditional grocer with 2,435 supermarkets in 31 states, said on Thursday it will stop buying the beef, reversing itself after saying Wednesday that it would sell beef both with and without the additive. Earlier Thursday, grocery chain Stop & Shop said it will stop selling the beef due to customer concerns. Stop & Shop is a unit of Dutch supermarkets owner Royal Ahold NV and operates 400 stores in the Northeast U.S.
As for one retail giant that sells significantly more food than any other chain, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Wednesday that its Walmart and Sam's Club stores will begin selling meat that doesn't contain the additive. It did not say it would stop selling beef with the filler altogether.
On Thursday Wal-Mart updated its statement to say that it will have new products in stores as quickly as possible, and that its meat department and customer service staffers will tell customers who inquire about the new meat offerings.
Other major chains have come out saying they never had the pink stuff in their stores' meats.
"Our ground beef vendors do not use an ammonium hydroxide treatment in their production processes," Target said in a statement. "Any additional questions can be directed to vendors."
Whole Foods, A&P and Costco also said they have never sold beef products with the additive.
Now that grocery stores are dropping the product, what about schools? The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week that, starting next fall, schools involved in the national school lunch program will have the option of avoiding the product. Earlier this month
School districts in New York City, Florida's Miami-Dade county, and Memphis, Tenn. announced they won't use the product, according to the Associated Press, with smaller districts around the country following suit.