E. coli … now I have your attention.

Greetings Carnivores,

Food safety is the ‘Hot Button’ topic that seems to make sensational headlines somewhere around the world every week. Entire food production systems are frequently suspended or closed completely. The issue of food safety is always front and centre but, it’s important to note it’s NOT always leveled directly at the Meat industry.

In the early 2000’s a number of people in Walkerton Ontario (Canada) became ill and died. When the dust settled, the preliminary investigation revealed the outbreak was due to contaminated city water and NOT infected meat. A collective chill went down the spine of everyone who ever reached for a glass of tap water.

Mad Cow, Listeriosis, Salmonella, Botulism, E. coli, undercooked Poultry, raw eggs, mishandled Seafood, unwashed fruits and vegetables and NOW OUR WATER???

More recently, the XL meat processing plant in Brooks Alberta was the site of the largest meat recall in Canadian history, affecting almost every single retailer large and small, from coast to coast and abroad. The implications were so far reaching, meat was recalled from the four corners of the globe and resulted in the complete closure and ultimate sale of the facility.

Almost makes you afraid to get out of bed.

The purpose for this post is not to strike fear into your hearts but, to hopefully shed some light on this most difficult subject. Education is key to staying healthy and that’s hopefully where I can help.

Of all the food borne illnesses (and there are MANY), today I want to focus on Escherichia coli (E. coli)

What’s important to note here is that this particular type of bacteria naturally occurs in the digestive tracts of humans as well as cattle, poultry and other animals. And for the most part, it’s harmless. Some varieties of this bug on the other hand, can carry genes that allow them to cause disease. The truly nasty variation, known as E. coli 0157; H7 can cause severe stomach cramps, hemorrhagic diarrhea, vomiting and in some cases, kidney failure and even death.

E. coli is a fecal contamination which is easily spread to plants and vegetables through improperly composted manure and water run-off from cattle pastures.  Proper washing of all fruits and veggies is as essential as a good hand washing regimen.

The meat industry however, must be extra vigilant because processing is a common point of contamination during slaughtering. Fecal matter present on the hide at the time of harvesting and the contents of the intestines could potentially mix with the meat. This warm, moist environment then becomes an incubator. This is the reason ground meat is SO susceptible to this type of contamination. If any bacteria are present on the surface of the meat, it then becomes mixed throughout the entire contents of the grind.  Additionally, meat from MANY different animals are ground together resulting in the possibility ONE single animal could contaminate an entire ‘run’ during a shift. The line in a slaughterhouse is routinely shut down for cleaning but, it’s easy to see how one shift could potentially produce thousands and thousands of pounds of contaminated ground beef without knowing.

This is why it’s so vitally important to properly cook your ground meat. Cooking all ground beef and hamburgers thoroughly and, using a good digital read thermometer, will eliminate the organism. I know some of you like to eat your burgers medium but … I caution you … unless you grind it yourself, you’re rolling the illness dice.

Ground beef should always be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 72 °C (162 °F).

Small tip when cooking ground beef patties: press your thumb into the middle of the patty BEFORE cooking. This will help when the patty swells up and ’rounds’ in the middle and … NEVER press down on the patty!!! That just squeezes all the wonderful juices out.

Similarly, steaks and roasts ‘could’ potentially be contaminated on the surface as well but, any outside contamination would be killed during the cooking process.

The meat industry is adopting preventative measures that include trying to reduce the number of cattle that carry the E. coli 0157; H7 bacteria through vaccines, as well as introducing measures that include the careful removal of the intestines AND a system of steam cleaning, vacuuming and using organic acid sprays on the carcasses BEFORE processing, in an effort to eliminate fecal contamination on the hide.

Keep in mind people … you need to do your part as well. When preparing meat ALWAYS be vigilant when handling cooked and raw products. The two should never be in contact with each other. Clean and sanitize work surfaces paying particular attention to cutting boards and countertops. When using knives or other utensils they must be washed, rinsed and sanitized between uses, paying particular attention to (again) cooked vs. raw product.  And always keep your food out of the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) where bacteria can grow quickly. Refrigerate, cook or freeze where and when necessary.

Another thing to keep in mind at this time of the year: unpasteurized fruit juices and ciders are commonly sold through roadside farm stands and Fall Fairs and should be avoided unless first heat treated to kill any possibly harmful bacteria that may be present. The young and elderly are particularly at risk of potentially serious food borne illness from consuming these products.

Ok so, now that I have completely ‘freaked’ you out, you need to know that the meat industry is one of the safest, most regulated, industries and the chance of becoming ill is slim.

BUT bad things CAN and DO happen so, let’s do everything we can to educate ourselves, follow good cleanliness practices including frequent hand washing and always, always cook things properly and observe the temperature ‘danger zone’.

In closing I’d like to stand on a soapbox for a moment, and ask a favour.

I always close my posts with the following paragraph: Until next time Carnivores, stay hungry and as usual, please follow my posts on Twitter @DougieDee and like and share them on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/carnivoreconfidential.

I’ve been doing this for almost a year now and, been blessed with a great number of folks who have commented and ‘liked’ what I’ve written but … I’d LOVE to hear from MORE of you !! 🙂

If you enjoy Carnivore Confidential, may I encourage you to please, please consider ‘subscribing’ by simply initiating a WordPress username for yourselves. It only takes a moment of your time and it would mean so much to me to hear from more of you.  If you look at the top of the Carnivore Confidential page you ‘should’ see the word ‘Follow’ … click on that word and it should change to the word ‘Following’ and take you a sign in page for WordPress … add a username and voila … you’ll begin getting email notices every time I post something new. I can see on my ‘Stats’ page that I have folks from ALL over the world reading the posts I write and… I want to hear from YOU! By launching a WordPress username for yourselves, you’ll get notices in your inbox, every time I write a new post and you won’t miss out on a thing.

WordPress is an EXCELLENT site with an iron clad privacy policy and you’ll never get bombarded with unwanted spam or other crap. PROMISE!

Thanks for reading and following and … please come back and comment, ‘like’ and follow my posts though WordPress. I will do my very best to continue to bring you informative, educational and hopefully well written, witty dialogue.

I REALLY appreciate your support.

Stay hungry Carnivores  🙂 🙂

8 thoughts on “E. coli … now I have your attention.

  1. Great post! Although I don’t suffer from mysophobia, I am extemely cautious about germs and contamination. I spent years on a WMD response team where biological weapons training was a daily occurrence. When cooking meats, it becomes apparent that my training in cross-contamination avoidance didn’t go to waste. I’ve been known to use four or five knives, wash my hands countless times, and basically drive everyone else crazy. And if that wasn’t bad enough, you should see me with chicken! You’d think I was handling smallpox. lol

    • It’s rather funny … I’ve been a butcher for over 35 years and, back in the day, geez … there wasn’t much thought even given to cross-contamination. Today however … the cutting room is “Hospital clean” … we don’t even cut two different species in the same ROOM until EVERYTHING is washed, rinsed and sanitized. Thanks for following and commenting Sir!

  2. Pingback: Brain Tastes From The Interwebs | Jeff Parker Cooks

    • Hi Dennis, and thx for your question. as I mentioned in my post, E. coli is present everywhere. as a reference, I submit the following for your information. I hope this helps.
      Reprinted from:


      Food-Borne Diseases
      E. coli 0157:H7
      Food-Borne Diseases Introduction

      E. coli 0157:H7

      The E. coli bacterium lives everywhere in the environment, though it is particularly common in animals. In people, E. coli live in parts of our body that are exposed to the environment, such as our intestines and respiratory tract. In our intestines, the bacteria often live at peace with us and in fact help us by being sources of vitamins K and B complex.

      There are hundreds of strains of E. coli. They are classified and numbered by the antigens that they produce. Some of them have acquired genes, either through mutation or from other organisms, that allow them to produce chemicals that are harmful to people. If we ingest these harmful strains, like 0157:H7, they can make us sick by producing these powerful chemical poisons, or toxins. However, most E. coli strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals.

      Infectious Knowledge
      E. coli is often used by researchers as a basic research tool because it grows quickly. Researchers study its functions and how it reproduces to learn more about bacteria in general, and it is used as a model organism because its behavior is similar to other disease-causing bacteria.
      When people eat E. coli-infected food or come directly into contact with E. coli-infected fecal matter, the E. coli bacteria enter the body and make their way to the stomach and small intestine, and often attach to the inside surface of the large intestine. Toxins, or poisons the bacteria secrete, cause swelling of the intestinal wall, which is what causes severe gastrointestinal distress.

      Painful and Bloody: Hemorrhagic Colitis
      E. coli 0157:H7 causes a disease called hemorrhagic colitis, which is the sudden onset of stomach pain and severe cramps. This is followed by diarrhea that is watery and bloody. Sometimes there is vomiting, but there is no fever. The incubation period is three to nine days. The illness lasts about a week, and there are usually no long-term problems.

      Antibiotics have little if any effect on this disease and most people recover in 5 to 10 days. There is no specific therapy, but it’s important to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and to eat properly.

      Potent Fact
      HUS is the most common cause of kidney failure in children.
      More Severe Cases
      A small percentage of people with E. coli infections get a more serious condition, called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), that can be life-threatening. It develops when the bacteria gets into the circulatory system through the inflamed bowel and releases certain toxins into the blood.

      HUS takes one to two weeks to develop, and 50 percent of the people in the United States who come down with the illness die from it. Half of all people who get HUS need dialysis for the rest of their lives, and many infected individuals need blood transfusions.

      E. coli is diagnosed through laboratory analysis of a stool sample.

      Antigen Alert
      Contaminated meat looks and smells like normal meat, so thorough cooking of food is necessary to prevent disease. Ground meat is more of a risk than whole cuts because in the former the bacteria are mixed in the grinding process and may not be completely killed by cooking, whereas in the latter they are located only on the surface and are more easily killed.
      Where Does It Come From?
      E. coli lives in the intestines of cattle, chicken, deer, sheep, and pigs. Animals are just carriers—E. coli doesn’t make them sick. The use of untreated animal manure as fertilizer is a common route of transmission for the bacterium.

      E. coli can be spread by eating ground beef, unpasteurized juice or milk, alfalfa sprouts, or water. Person-to-person transmission can occur in places like day care centers, hospitals, and nursing homes, or anywhere people come into contact with fecal matter of an infected individual.

      Unlike many infectious organisms, where it takes thousands or tens of thousands of organisms to cause disease, it only takes a few organisms, fewer than 200, for an E. coli infection to occur.

      Keeping Infection at Bay
      The biggest risk for E. coli infection is eating undercooked beef. Beef should always be thoroughly cooked before eating. Other ways to prevent the ingestion of E. coli include …

      Avoiding spreading harmful bacteria in the kitchen by keeping raw meat separate from other food. Wash hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils with hot, soapy water after they touch raw meat. Never put cooked meat on the same unwashed plate that held raw meat (this is important for people who grill burgers and put the grilled burgers on the same platter they brought the raw burgers out on).
      Washing meat thermometers after each and every use.
      Drinking only pasteurized milk and cider.
      Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
      Drinking only purified, treated water.

      Excerpted from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dangerous Diseases and Epidemics © 2002 by David Perlin, Ph.D., and Ann Cohen. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

      • Thanks for the reply but that didn’t answer my question. I understand why it is dangerous to humans, but I was asking why it isn’t dangerous to carnivores.

  3. Sorry I was unable to answer your question. My “guess” would be fundamental differences between our gastrointestinal tract and the flora and fauna that resides there vs all the rest of the animal kingdom and their systems. Being a Butcher not a microbiologist, I will stick to the things I do know and research the net for those that I don’t.

  4. Pingback: DON’T invite “Sam and Ella” over for dinner … Salmonellosis is NO JOKE !!! | Carnivore Confidential

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s