Founder, BPI Inc.
Class of 2011
Eldon Roth is an inventor and innovator, who started Beef Products Inc. (BPI) in 1981 to commercialize a pioneering method he developed for producing 95 percent lean ground beef from fatty beef trimmings that would otherwise have little value. Today, BPI is the world’s largest manufacturer of boneless lean beef and its product is found in the majority of all ground beef produced in the United States.
Roth’s process is estimated to have added 10 cents a pound to the value of beef trimmings, adding $10 in value to every market steer and heifer produced in the United States, or an additional $250 million-plus to the value of U.S. market cattle each year. BPI’s South Sioux City, Neb., plant — and three others like it in Kansas, Texas and Iowa — were called by the Washington Post, “A testament to the sensibilities and eccentricities of Eldon Roth.”
A recent $400 million expansion of its South Sioux City complex, which created some 300 high-paying jobs, will allow the company to produce its own lean beef products, from patties to meatballs to pizza toppings.
Roth has always been a believer in industrial technology. His answer to the problem of foodborne illness is usually of his own devising. He conceived of or customized almost all of the equipment in his company’s plants. When he built his first meat plant in Amarillo, Texas, it was modeled on dairy plant design, with bricks on the floors to withstand cleaning agents and the use of pipes instead of conveyor belts because it was more sanitary.
Roth discovered that his process for separating meat from fat had the unintended effect of making lean beef more alkaline and thus less conducive to bacterial growth. That prompted a search for a more effective way to rid meat of microbial pathogens, including the use of ammonium hydroxide. The challenge was calibrating the ammonia level so that it produced the bactericidal effect without affecting the flavor or appearance of the meat.
After several years of experimenting, they developed a method in which the meat leaves centrifuges, passes through a pencil-sized tube where it is exposed to a minute amount of ammonia gas that combines with moisture in the meat to form ammonium hydroxide and eliminate acidity.
Current clients include the leading fast-food chains, and supporters of Roth’s process include such industry critics as Carol Tucker Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America and Nancy Donley, president of Safe Tables Our Priority.
Eldon Roth and his wife Regina, the company’s Secretary-Treasurer, have personally shared their good fortune, contributing to a number of civic and charitable endeavors in the tri-state (Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa) area.