There's been a lot of talk in the media about E. coli contamination in ground meat lately, hamburgers specifically. First, The New York Times profiled Stephanie Smith, a young woman who was paralyzed after eating a contaminated hamburger. A week later, Larry King and CNN posed the question "Should Americans banish the burger"? The media is always reporting beef recall stories, which leave me a little freaked out about indulging in the occasional cheeseburger. How about you?
The argument against ground meat goes something like this: in slaughterhouses all sorts of things are flying around, including cow guts, which contain E. coli. Because slaughterhouse practices can be a little iffy, the E. coli can come into contact with the meat to be sold for consumption. Cooking a piece of contaminated steak usually kills the bacteria because the E. coli has only touched the surface, not actually penetrated the meat. The problem with ground meat is that E. coli can easily get onto every small bit of meat, making it harder to eliminate.
I'm not sure if I'm ready to completely banish the burger from my diet, but I do eat less meat these days. Besides being healthier for my heart, the sanitary conditions of large slaughterhouses worry me a bit. When it comes to eating meat I definitely try to follow certain guidelines. To learn them, continue reading.
- Buy humanely raised meat. Studies show that grass fed cows have far fewer E. coli than those fed on grain — 80 percent less. And the small amount they do have is usually killed by the natural acids in their digestive tracts, unlike grain-fed cows.
- Don't buy pre-ground beef. Grind it yourself at home or ask your local butcher to do it for you.
- If you do buy pre-ground beef or beef from a major meat packing house, make sure to cook it thoroughly. Always cook meat to at least 160 degrees.
- Wash your hands and all surfaces when handling meat.
- Store meat properly — your refrigerator should be set to 41 degrees or lower and meat should be stored on a separate shelf away from other items.
- Do not defrost meat on your counter or using hot water. Follow the USDA's guidelines for defrosting meat.