Based on the results of a recent study, you might want to think twice before ordering your next burger medium-rare.
Researchers for Consumer Reports just released the findings of an experiment in which they analyzed 458 pounds of beef, and their conclusions were shocking. Of the 458 pounds of beef tested, 1 percent contained salmonella, nearly 20 percent was contaminated with poisonous C. perfringens, and 100 percent "contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination."
That’s right. All 458 pounds of beef were contaminated with fecal matter.
According to government statistics, there are 48 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States every year. While many people are able to recover from food poisoning, the most vulnerable members of society also incur the highest risk when it comes to foodborne illness. Based on CDC data, pregnant women and the elderly have the highest chance of severe medical consequences following an incident of food poisoning, but the results aren't exactly pretty for the rest of us either.
However, if you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not ready to give up beef anytime soon. So, without going cold turkey on tacos and burgers, how can you reduce your risk of foodborne illness?
The first thing you can do is buy better beef. Beef from cows raised using organic, antibiotic-free and grass-fed farming practices contains fewer, less dangerous bacteria. While the study found that 18 percent of conventionally raised beef contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria, only 9 percent of sustainably produced beef poses the same risk.
In the words of Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of the Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group for Consumer Reports, “When you consider meat as a whole, when you choose sustainably-raised beef, there’s less of a chance you’ll come into contact with drug-resistant bacteria, which has implications for you personally and for public health.”
The next step you can take to reduce your chance of food poisoning is to order steak rather than ground beef. Jonathan Campbell, Ph.D., a meat extension specialist at Penn State University, explains the reasoning behind this decision by comparing bacteria to pepper.
Campbell describes the safety differences between ground beef and steak, saying: “If you pepper the outside of a steak and sear it on the grill, you’ll kill the bacteria. If you grind that meat, you’ll mix the pepper throughout all of the meat.”
That’s a nice picture for you to keep in mind next time you decide to order a burger.
Both steak and high-quality ground beef can be expensive, however. If you’re looking for a cheaper way to reduce your risk of foodborne illness, look no further than your cooking choices.
Hannah Gould, Ph.D., an epidemiologist for the CDC, says, “Up to 28 percent of Americans eat ground beef that’s raw or undercooked,” but cooking beef to 160 degrees F can kill foodborne pathogens. She suggests using a meat thermometer while cooking at home, and ordering beef cooked to at least medium in restaurants.
If you can get past the idea that your favorite burger probably contains fecal matter, making smart choices while ordering and eating beef can reduce your chances of getting food poisoning and make all the difference in the long run.