Do you think you deserve to know the details of your food’s journey from the field to your plate? I do, and it seems like a reasonable enough request. But apparently, some large food producers don’t see it that way.
Yesterday, The New York Times published an investigative article about the safety of ground beef in America. The article centers around a 22-year-old dance instructor in Minnesota who will probably never walk again because she contracted a severe case of E. coli from a single hamburger her mother grilled on a Sunday evening.
Tracing the journey of that hamburger and millions of others produced and sold in the United States led reporter Michael Moss to some startling conclusions. Among them:
* “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.” Given that, imagine how difficult it is to finger the offending company when someone gets sick from eating a tainted burger.
* Cargill, the company that made the burger the girl in the article ate, used a mixture of slaughterhouse timmings and other scraps, as well as ammonia-treated fat. “Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli,” Moss wrote.
* The United States Department of Agriculture prohibits the sale of E. coli-tainted beef. But there is no requirement that grinders test their ingredients for E. coli. In fact, many do not test because the companies they buy from will not sell them scraps if they DO test. CostCo is one of the few big companies that do test all trimmings before they run them through the grinder. And because of that, CostCo’s safety director told the Times, Tyson will not supply them.
* Properly cooking meat and washing up afterward the standard way, with hot soap and water, is not enough to kill all E. coli bacteria.
* “While the Department of Agriculture has inspectors posted in plants and has access to production records, it also guards those secrets,” Moss wrote. “Federal records released by the department through the Freedom of Information Act blacked out details of Cargill’s grinding operation.” The New York Times was only able to see the redacted part when other sources provided them with the same documents, unaltered. They probably came from anonymous sources.
These are just snippets from the article. Clearly, to establish your own informed opinion, it would be best to read the Times article in its entirety. I am personally getting a little tired of hearing about things like this. We are a huge, civilized country with laws out the wahoo and we still can’t be guaranteed a burger that isn’t laced with crap? Or maybe that’s the problem.
I wouldn’t jump to point fingers at only the huge producers, either. Yes, local food is generally a safer bet, but even that cannot carry a 100% guarantee.
I see the grinder on my KitchenAid mixer getting a lot more action in the future. What do you think?