"This issue really has been elevated in social media," he said. "Claims made that this product is not safe are blatantly untrue. From a microbial-pathogen point of view, the product has a better reputation than straight ground beef.

"If you took LFTB out of the ground beef mix, you certainly wouldn't improve the microbial status, and you would not reduce the occurrence of E. coli 0157:H7 or salmonella in ground beef. In fact, it would be just the opposite. There is not a safety issue here."

The brief exposure of LFTB to ammonia gas is a very effective antimicrobial treatment, Mills said. And whether it is applied to the meat in this finely textured form or whether it is applied to the side of the beef carcass -- which is another place that USDA accepts its use as an effective intervention for reducing microbial and pathogen numbers -- it makes meat safer.

So despite what you may have heard or read, safety is not an issue with lean, finely textured beef, Mills stressed. But he stopped short of promoting it.

"If you are offended by something that is sticky and gooey and red, and in addition you know that it came from meat, you might find it disgusting," he said. "Somehow that combination of things is offensive to some folks.

"We live in a culture where emotions consistently trump logic and reason, and this is one of those. The only sound condemnation of the product is that it just looks bad. But the fact remains -- it is a low-cost source of very lean ground beef."

Actually, added to traditional ground beef in small amounts -- perhaps just 10 percent or 15 percent, according to Mills -- some people believe it enhances the product texture.

"If you make ground beef only from this material, it wouldn't have a typical course granular texture that you expect from ground beef," he explained. "But formulating ground beef with a small amount of LFTB improves the texture. Many consumers appreciate finer ground beef and find the smoother texture to be a desirable characteristic.

"But it is true, LFTB is detectable and it changes the character of the patty. Now, whether that is good or bad is in the eyes of the beholder and is greatly influenced by the way it is presented."