Sunday, October 4, 2009

Michael Moss on Ground Beef and E. Coli

In today's New York Times (here), Michael Moss reports on the ground beef industry and the problem of E. coli contamination.

This article definitely made me want to spend extra money to buy better-quality ground beef. It's an extremely well-written article that strikes me as Pulitzer Prize material.

Stephanie Smith is a 22-year old who was paralyzed from the waist down because of E. coli in a hamburger patty that she ate in 2007. She was comatose for 9 weeks and will probably never walk again.

The hamburger was made by Cargill, which the the largest privately-owned company in the United States. The NYT traces, in comprehensive detail, the origin of the hamburger meat that sickened Smith.

Cargill (and other companies) use beef from multiple slaughterhouses in order to keep costs down -- one provider will supply cheaper meat with as much as 50% fat content, while another will provide better meat. This means that the end-product is a conglomeration in which it's difficult to know which portions have been tested for E. coli.
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.
313. Will this article stimulate/provoke a call for more federal oversight of food safety?

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