On 27 September 2021 the editorial staff of Facts received a report via WhatsApp asking to verify the information contained in a post published on July 10 on Facebook, according to which the McDonald’s fast food chain had lost a lawsuit against chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver and that the latter would have demonstrated that “the food they sell is not suitable for ingestion, because it is highly toxic”.
At the center of the alleged legal dispute is ammonia hydroxide, a substance that is used by the restaurant chain to “wash” the fatty parts of meat. The post also states that “before this process, according to the presenter, this meat was not suitable for human consumption”.
This is a fake news, which decontextualizes a story that happened in 2011.
First, the news of a legal dispute between McDonald’s and Oliver is not reported by any media. Between the TV chef and the fast food chain there is an old controversy dating back to 2011, when during the show Oliver’s Food Revolution, Oliver attacked the practice of processing beef with ammonia hydroxide, used at the time by McDonald’s and from other restaurant chains (such as Taco Bell and Burger King).
This is the so-called “pink mush” (pink slime), an industrial preparation based on fatty leftovers from beef, parts once relegated to the production of animal food. As explained in a survey published in 2009 by New York Times, these food scraps were particularly susceptible to contamination with Escherichia coli (capable of causing a potentially fatal bacterial infection for humans), which is why they entered fast food only thanks to treatment with ammonia hydroxide, capable of kill bacteria.
Oliver’s criticism was not about any human health issues – the practice is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, the U.S. government agency that deals with the regulation of food and pharmaceutical products) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture ( Usda) – but its gastronomic desirability.
The controversy unleashed by Oliver helped create a heated campaign against this practice, which within a few months led to McDonald’s (and the other chains concerned) to abandon it altogether. As stated in a statement issued by the company in 2013, “McDonald’s does not use ammonia-treated beef scraps, what some call ‘pink mush’, in our burgers, and has not done so since 2011”.