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10/6/09

Hamburgers In Orbit The Good The Bad and The Ugly as NYT Shoots Down Copacetic Image of Hamburgers

Hamburgers In Orbit The Good The Bad and The Ugly as NYT Shoots Down Copacetic Image of Hamburgers

Where Does the Meat in Hamburgers Come From?

If you took all the hamburgers that Americans eat and put them in a line they would circle the Earth 32 times.What about the pickles? That statistic is from a recent article on the history of hamburger (Can you get a PhD in that?). But a fascinating NY Times article reveals that all is not copacetic in the high steaks(!) world of hamburger manufacture. Especially where it involves the arch nemesis E. coli. BTW E.coli is a problem for other food not just hamburger.

Amazingly the NYT says "Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen".

You should know though that E.coli is one of the most ubiquitous of all bacteria when it comes to the human gut and the gut of animals. It is only certain varieties of E.coli that make trouble for the consumer and it happens in other foods besides hamburger. E. coli O157:H7 can colonize in the intestines of animals, which could contaminate muscle meat at slaughter. O157:H7 is a strain of E. coli that produces large quantities of a potent toxin that forms in the intestine and causes severe damage to the lining of the intestine. The disease produced by the bacteria is called Hemorrhagic colitis.



E. coli O157:H7 survive refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Once they get in food, they can multiply very slowly at temperatures as low as 44 °F. The actual infectious dose is unknown, but most scientists believe it takes only a small number of this strain of E. coli to cause serious illness and even death, especially in children. E.coli is killed by thorough cooking. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 °F. Illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 have been linked with the consumption of undercooked ground beef. Raw milk, apple cider, dry cured sausage, and undercooked roast beef have also been implicated.

Obviously most hamburger is safe considering how much hamburger is consumed every year in the United States. (14 to 15 Billion Hamburgers). Per the NYT, "Meat companies and grocers have been barred from selling ground beef tainted by the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7 since 1994, after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants left four children dead. Yet tens of thousands of people are still sickened annually by this pathogen, federal health officials estimate, with hamburger being the biggest culprit".





Do you think preparing ground beef is a no brainer? Here is what they say at the FSIS site about how to safely prepare ground beef: Consumers preparing ground beef products should heed the following advice.

  • Consumers should only eat ground beef patties that have been cooked to a safe temperature of 160 ºF. When a ground beef patty is cooked to 160 ºF throughout, it can be safe and juicy, regardless of color.
  • The only way to be sure a ground beef patty is cooked to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria is to use an accurate digital instant-read thermometer.
  • Color is not a reliable indicator that ground beef patties have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria.
  • Eating a pink or red ground beef patty without first verifying that the safe temperature of 160 ºF has been reached is a significant risk factor for food borne illness.
  • Thermometer use to ensure proper cooking temperature is especially important for those who cook or serve ground beef patties to people most at risk for food borne illness because certain pathogens can lead to serious illness or even death. Those most at risk include young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

  • E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection "To prevent E. coli O157:H7 infection, you should
    1. Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly. Because ground beef can turn brown before disease-causing bacteria are destroyed, use a digital instant-read meat thermometer to ensure thorough cooking. Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 160 °F.
    2. If you are served an undercooked hamburger or other ground beef product in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking. You may want to ask for a new bun and a clean plate, too. 3. Avoid spreading harmful bacteria in your kitchen. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods. Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat.
    4. Never place cooked hamburgers or ground beef on the unwashed plate that held raw patties. Wash meat thermometers in between tests of patties that require further cooking.
    5. Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider.
    6. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will not be cooked.
    7. Children under 5 years of age, immunocompromised persons, and the elderly should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts until their safety can be assured. Methods to decontaminate alfalfa seeds and sprouts are being investigated.

    Where do you get reliable information about food safety? Good places to start are:
  • United States Dept. of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service
  • www.FoodSafety.gov

    Safe Handling of Take Out Foods and Bacteria in Foodborne Illness

  • Safe Handling of Takeout Foods
  • Foodborne Illness: What Consumers Need to Know
  • The credit munch: The history of the hamburger