Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Ammonia in Ground Beef?

I've heard that ground beef used for hamburgers contains ammonia and that it is put there to kill bacteria. Is that true? Is it legal? Safe?

Answer (Published 2/11/2010)

Yes, it is true, and yes, it is legal. But most Americans would be surprised to learn what goes into the hamburgers they eat at fast-food restaurants, the ground meat or prepared patties they buy in the supermarket, and the hamburgers served to youngsters through the federal school lunch program.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging - Your Anti-Inflammatory Diet Source - Want to promote overall health and help minimize the risk of inflammatory diseases? Join Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging, your online guide to the anti-inflammatory diet. Start your 14-day free trial now for access to shopping and eating guides, hundreds of recipes, an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid and more!

In 2009, the New York Times ran two illuminating articles about beef, its processing, and the harrowing flaws in the federal inspection system that is supposed to insure its safety. On December 31, 2009, the Times published a long article about the use of ammonia to destroy E. coli, potentially deadly bacteria that can contaminate meat and that over the years have caused severe illness and many deaths.

First, you have to know that the processed beef that becomes hamburgers now commonly contains fatty trimmings that the Times article said were once relegated to pet food and tallow manufacture by the beef processing industry. In 2001, a South Dakota company found that by injecting beef and beef trimmings with ammonia it could effectively destroy E. coli or at least reduce the bacteria to undetectable levels. (The trimmings harbor more bacteria than the actual meat.) This method was endorsed by the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) and now, the Times reported, processed beef from this company, Beef Products, Inc., is used by McDonald's, Burger King, and other fast-food outlets as well as supermarket chains. Nonetheless, in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens "have been found dozens of times" in Beef Products meat, according to records the Times obtained during its investigation.

The ammonia injected as a disinfectant remains in Beef Products' meat, which is used in a majority of the hamburgers sold nationwide. The newspaper's investigation revealed that untreated beef contains ammonia that is "typically about 6 on the pH scale, near that of rainwater and milk." The USDA signed off on a study that raised the pH of the meat to as high as 10 in order to destroy E. coli, but the company's own study noted "potential issues surrounding the palatability of a pH-9.5 product." Whether the ammonia method works to destroy E. coli effectively when only lower pH levels are achieved, is open to question. According to the Times, the FDA has signed off on the use of ammonia in meat, concluding that it is safe when used as a processing agent in foods.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss another investigative article on beef processing and the safety of hamburger meat.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here