Ground Beef And The Latest E. coli Outbreak
The latest E. coli outbreak in the U. S.
As of this writing, 1. 8 million pounds of beef have been recalled from supermarkets in 9 states and 11 people have taken ill after eating this product. Are you alarmed? You should be, seeing this is Memorial Day weekend, a time when most families break out the barbecue grill and the “Kiss The Cook” apron. No one will be kissing you if you serve them meat contaminated with E. coil.
A few days ago, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that 5 stores may have received beef contaminated with E coli 0157: H7. This is the worst type of E. coli which can cause bloody diarrhea, kidney failure and even death.
The 5 retailers are:
Gordon Food Service Marketplace stores in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin
-- Surf N Turf Market in Sebring, Florida
-- Giorgio's Italian Delicatessen in Stuart, Florida
-- M Sixty Six General Store in Orleans, Michigan
-- Buchtel Food Mart in Buchtel, Ohio
The list is not final, says a spokesperson for the FSIS, but the recall was categorized by the FSIS as "'Class I': a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.” Ten of the people who were sickened ate at restaurants. The names of the restaurants are not being revealed, but the products were shipped to restaurants in Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.
The US Department of Agriculture warns consumers to “return or throw out meat that has the code EST.2574B and a production date between March 31 and April 18, 2014.” The beef is said to have come from Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit. http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/21/health/beef-recall/
Why outbreaks are still common
Despite a 1994 ban on selling meat contaminated with E. coli, outbreaks are still common in the US, with ground beef being blamed for sixteen outbreaks in the last three years alone. In 2007, a dance instructor had to be put into a coma after suffering a severe reaction to E coli infection. It was traced to a frozen hamburger made by Cargill and labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” When the woman emerged from the coma, she was paralyzed.
According to an article by the New York Times, ground beef is “often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses.” These low-grade ingredients are likely to have come into contact with cow feces, which carries E. coli. Why do they use these ingredients? You guessed, it costs them less.
But according to the US Department of Agriculture, companies are encouraged to test the ingredients first before mixing them together, so they can detect contamination. But many of them don’t do this, because the big slaughterhouses will only sell to grinders who agree not to test their products for E. coli. Of course, the whole idea is to protect them from their goods being recalled if they are found to be contaminated. One company, Beef Products Inc, said it treats its trimmings with ammonia to kill E. coli. Their product is sold to groceries, restaurants and is also used in the school feeding program. Despite this, federal school lunch inspectors found E. coli in Beef Products in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and stopped it from going to the schools. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/health/04meat.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Some supermarket chains like Publix Supermarket will grind your steak for you so you can be sure you are getting pure beef, or you may purchase Bubba Burgers which boasts of having no trimmings. According to NY Times, Costco is one of the few large producers that test its meat for E. coli before grinding. They began doing this after a woman became ill in 1998 from eating their hamburger meat, which was recalled.
The NY Times report says that federal guidance to cook meat thoroughly and wash up afterward is not sufficient. So where does this leave us, the consumer? How careful can we be? Here are the safety guidelines laid down by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Pregnant women, newborns, children, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.
Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, changing diapers, before preparing or eating food, and after touching animals. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water is not available.
Avoid eating under-cooked ground beef. Color is not a good indicator. Use a food thermometer to ensure that your meat is properly cooked. 160 degrees internal temperature for ground beef.
Avoid cross-contamination by thoroughly washing counters, cutting boards and utensils after contact with raw meat. http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/ecoli/
In this article, I have focused on E. coli infection from contaminated ground beef. However, mass food production puts all foods at risk, therefore we need to take certain steps to protect ourselves and our families. We can:
- shop at reputable stores
- read food labels
- observe proper hygiene. Hand washing is the best way to avoid infection.
- cook food, especially ground beef, thoroughly.
- grow as much of our own food as we can.