(CBS/AP) Is it "so long" for "pink slime"? Beef Products Inc (BPI), the company that makes the chemical-treated meat trimmings behind the nation's ground beef brouhaha, is suspending operations at three of its four plants as officials hope to address the public outcry.
BPI will suspend operations at plants in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kan.; and Waterloo, Iowa, according to Craig Letch, the company's director of food safety and quality assurance. The company's plant at its Dakota Dunes, S.D., headquarters will continue operations.
"We feel like when people can start to understand the truth and reality then our business will come back," Letch said. "It's 100 percent beef."
About 200 employees at each of the three BPI plants will get full salary and benefits for 60 days during the suspension, Letch said.
The plant in Amarillo produced about 200,000 pounds a day, while the Kansas and Iowa plants each produced about 350,000 pounds a day.
Federal regulators say the ammonia-treated filler, known in the industry as "lean, finely textured beef," meets food safety standards. But critics say the product could be unsafe and is an unappetizing example of industrialized food production.
The low-cost ingredient is made from left over fatty bits of from other cuts. The bits are heated and spun to remove most of the fat, then the lean mix 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 result? A product that is as much as 97 percent lean beef, Letch said.
The product has been used for years, but it wasn't until earlierthis month that social media suddenly exploded with worry and an online petition seeking its ouster from schools garnered hundreds of thousands of supporters. The USDA decided to allow school districts to stop using it and some retail chains have pulled products containing it from their shelves.
Grocery stores owned by Supervalu, Food Lion and Safeway Inc., Kroger Co., BJ's Wholesale Club among others announced they would no longer stock meat containing pink slime,reported. Wal-Mart says 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 companies including Target and Whole Foods released statements saying their stores have never contained the products.