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NYC school official: No more pink slime for lunch next fall

In this undated image released by Beef Products Inc., boneless lean beef trimmings are shown before packaging. The debate over "pink slime" in chopped beef is hitting critical mass. The term, adopted by opponents of "lean finely textured beef," describes the processed trimmings cleansed with ammonia and commonly mixed into ground meat. Federal regulators say it meets standards for food safety. Critics liken it to pet food — and their battle has suddenly gone viral amid new media attention and a snowballing online petition. (AP Photo/Beef Products Inc.)

NEW YORK CITY -- Steak it ain't. School officials in New York City say that this fall they’re going to toss out the "pink slime" meat filler used in ground beef products served up in school cafeterias.

In New York City's 1.1 million-student school system, officials said Wednesday that they’re working with food vendors to phase out products containing pink slime that are dished out as burgers, spaghetti sauce and sloppy joes. They said they have heard enough concerns from parents and food advocates.

"We're phasing it out by September -- they will no longer be served in our schools," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Wednesday, according to NBCNewYork.com.

Read NBCNewYork.com’s story on the pink slime phase-out

The change follows an online campaign by advocates for healthier food to rid school cafeterias of what the meat industry calls "lean, finely textured beef," but critics derisively call pink slime. The low-cost filler is made from fatty meat scraps that are heated to remove most of the fat, then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.

Pink slime has been on the market for years, and federal officials argue it is safe. The National Meat Association has noted that ammonium hydroxide is also used in baked goods, puddings and other processed foods.

The USDA recently announced that, in response to requests from school districts nationwide, it will offer schools a choice: 95 percent lean beef patties made with the filler, or less lean bulk ground beef without it.

“School districts are in the same boat as parents, and they’re still trying to figure out what the pink slime is,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the Maryland-based School Nutrition Association, told msnbc.com on Wednesday. “What is important to clarify here is that this is not a school-food issue, this is a ground beef issue.”

Safeway to stop buying pink slime beef filler

Several U.S. school districts said they would change their cafeteria menus by next fall. At Florida's Miami-Dade school system, the nation's fourth-largest district, with 345,000 students, officials also announced plans to eliminate the meat in September.

Others decided to remove the ammonia-treated meat immediately.

Tony Geraci, executive director of child nutrition for the schools in Memphis, said the 110,000-student district hasn't used the product since October. Geraci described pink slime as a "a horrible product" and not fit for human consumption.

Pratt-Heavner said don't blame the lunch lady, changes will come slowly and each district must act appropriately.

"Like all customers at the store, school districts will have to ask about their product and what it is," she said.

Msnbc.com readers also were quick to respond to the district’s move.

“The food companies/school district officials are finally waking up and actually want kids and adults to eat healthy and real beef,” Shantelle Roberts posted on msnbc.com's Facebook page.

This article includes reporting by The Associated Press, Msnbc.com's Sevil Omer and NBCNewYork.com.

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