As a part of our commitment to provide the safest lean beef possible, our research drove us to create the pH enhancement process, which relies upon slightly increasing the level of ammonium hydroxide already present in beef in order to elevate its pH. Ammonium hydroxide is naturally found in beef, other proteins, and virtually all foods. It is widely used in the processing of numerous foods, such as baked goods, cheeses, gelatins, chocolate, caramels, and puddings. One result of this food safety system is the dramatic reduction in the number of potential pathogens that may be present in foods, such as E.coli O157:H7.

Ammonia/ammonium hydroxide is one of a number of processing aids used with meat and poultry in order to ensure the safety of these foods before they are delivered to consumers. The pH enhancement process is an important component of our overall food safety effort. By adding a tiny amount of ammonia (gas) to the beef, we raise the pH in the beef to help kill any harmful bacteria that could possibly be present.

Maybe the graphic below helps to put it into a little better perspective. Ammonia based compounds are naturally occurring and can be found in every component of a bacon cheeseburger (bun, bacon, cheese, condiments, and beef). Baked goods, including breads will have ranges from 400 to 32,000 ppm (for the sake of illustration, we’ll use the low end of the range). Bacon has approximately 48,000 ppm nitrogen (nitrates), with 160 ppm in the form of ammonia. Condiments, relishes, and cheeses have levels up to 8,000 ppm (for the sake of illustration, we’ll use 400 ppm for the condiments and 1,000 ppm for American cheese). Between the naturally occurring levels and small amounts used in our food safety system, beef may have about 200 ppm. So, for the illustration, we’ve taken these amounts and multiplied by the weight of the typical bacon double cheeseburger to show the full picture.


Food Safety Innovation

Bun – 2 oz = 50 mg (440 ppm)
Bacon – 1 oz = 16 mg (160 ppm)
Condiments – 2 oz = 50 mg (400 ppm)
Cheese – 1.5 oz = 76 mg (813 ppm)
Beef – 3.2 oz = 40 mg (200 ppm)

Ammonia and Food Safety

Why use ammonia to process foods?
Ammonia has been widely used in the food industry for a variety of reasons for decades. Whether used for leavening baked goods, for pH control, or any of its other valuable uses, ammonia in its various forms is used in the processing of other foods such as cheeses, gelatins, chocolate, caramels, and puddings. In fact, the baking powder you use in your own home starts with ammonia.

OK, why do you use ammonia?

To help eliminate or reduce harmful pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7. Research drove us to create the pH enhancement process, which relies upon slightly increasing the level of ammonium hydroxide already present in beef in order to elevate its pH. Since many of these pathogens grow in an acidic environment, our pH enhancement process has proven to be very effective in eliminating or reducing their presence.

Pathogens have always been a challenge in the entire food supply and we must continue to embrace technologies that help us combat them. These technologies range from new bacterial detection techniques that help us identify illnesses due to food contamination; to the use of antimicrobial treatments used in processing of foods to help ensure consumer safety. Technologies such as irradiation of spices; organic acid and chlorine washes of fruits and vegetables; and antimicrobial treatments applied to meat, have all contributed to the reduction of food borne illness. Still, we must always be vigilant in the development of new technologies to continue this fight against harmful pathogens.

You do realize that using ammonia or ammonium hydroxide or any other substance sounds strange to the average person?

Yes we do. We understand the negative perceptions around words like ammonia, but it would be a mistake to stop using such an effective and proven food safety measure.

Ammonia is an essential component of all life. Simply put it is nitrogen and hydrogen together and it is a key element in our entire ecosystem. So, it naturally occurs in all foods, in some cases at pretty high levels (example: 1,376 parts per million in domestic blue cheese). In addition, it has been widely used in the food industry for a variety of reasons for decades. Just like all foods, ammonia, in the form of ammonium hydroxide, is naturally occurring in beef and, even after the slight increase resulting from our pH enhancement process, it is only present in small amounts (200 parts per million or less in ground beef) compared to many other common foods you eat every day.

Is using ammonia the only way to make food safe?

No, but we believe it is the most effective intervention against food-borne illness and our food safety record is a testament to that.

There are many other types of interventions (see others here) and elevating the pH level of food is only one part of our food safety system. Safety starts with our plants which have all been designed to create the most sanitary processing facilities in the food industry. We design and build our own equipment to incorporate sanitation and clean-ability from the start using clean-in-place sanitation systems. We do not mount any equipment directly to floors or walls. Instead, we use “stand-offs” making it possible to clean behind, under and around everything. We designed a system that allows the outside air to be washed, refrigerated, and sanitized before ever entering the room where food is being processed. The chilled air creates increased air pressure within the facility that helps prevent other sources of air from entering the processing area. We design food safety systems to include validated and USDA/FDA approved interventions to help eliminate or reduce any potentially harmful bacteria. We are dedicated to using the most advanced technology to ensure our lean beef is safe.

FoodNH3 (ppm)FoodNH3 (ppm)FoodNH3 (ppm)
American Cheese813French Dressing134Orange Juice35
Bacon161Grapes87Peanut Butter489
Beer1Grape Wine18Pears30
Beer Cheese917Gelatin342Pecans71
Bread30Green Peas60Pickle Relish87
Brewer's yeast217Ground Beef101Potato Chips240
Broccoli62Half milk/half cream116Radishes44
Brussels sprouts110Ham157Raisins95
Buttermilk158Hoap Cheese616Rice1
Cabbage17Hot Dog64Salami1112
Carrots14Idaho Potato97Spanish Olives93
Catsup352Lemon juice23Spinach10
Cheddar Cheese1104Lima Beans28String Beans7
Chicken171Margarine211Sweet Potatoes18
Corn14Mayonnaise411Tilsit Cheese552
Domestic Blue Cheese1376Mushrooms66Turnip Greens29
Egg White4Mustard35
Egg Yolk41Onions269