The Maine Department of Education said it will no longer buy beef that contains Lean Finely Textured Beef, a cheap beef product known in the meat industry as "pink slime." It is used to bulk up hamburger patties and other ground beef products.

Pink slime is made from low-quality beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill off potential pathogens like E. Coli. Pink slime is widely used in the United States, where it is mixed with ground beef as an inexpensive filler that can be as much as 25 percent of a hamburger patty.

In the wake of media attention about pink slime in school lunches, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced March 15 that schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program will have other beef options to serve schoolchildren in the 2012-2013 school year.

Maine schools get 10 to 15 percent of their food from the USDA, by way of the Maine Department of Education.

"We don't believe anything is wrong with it, but given the public sentiment, we decided to not buy any more of it," said David Connerty-Martin, a spokesman for the department.

Connerty-Martin said only six percent of the USDA product that comes into the state is beef, so the amount going out to individual schools is small and, at this time, there is no way to tell if it contains pink slime or not.

"Even the USDA doesn't know, at this point," said Connerty-Martin.

He also pointed out that individual school districts buy meat from other sources, too, and it is up to them to check if it contains pink slime.

The USDA maintains that pink slime is safe and meets the nutritional guidelines for school meals, but that school districts have local control over how to meet nutritional guidelines and are not required to purchase beef with pink slime.

One of the concerns about pink slime is that it slips through an oversight loophole. The USDA classifies ammonium hydroxide not as a food additive, but a substance used in the processing of food, therefore it is not subject to premarket review and approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "because it is generally recognized, by qualified experts, to be safe under the intended conditions of use," according to the USDA.

As for schools in the midcoast, Camden area schools avoid pink slime.

"We have never used pink slime nor will we ever use it," said Five Town CSD Superintendent William Shuttleworth.

Charles Butler, nutrition director for RSU 13, said the district will not use any products with pink slime in the next school year and is doing its best to identify and remove products this year. Since the products are not labeled, Butler calls manufacturers, when that information is available.

"I will not be taking any more of the ground beef from the USDA until we are sure it does not contain pink slime, and we will check with the manufacturers when purchasing from other purveyors to ensure we are not using it in the future," said Butler. "We are told it is safe. This may be true, but I believe it is still a completely unnecessary process designed to save a few pennies per pound when processing ground beef."