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.
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