Saturday, January 2, 2010


Meat is not the most risky food we eat. More illnesses are caused by contaminated produce. On the other hand, our meat isn't all that safe either.

Let's take a quick look at how safe American meat was in 2009. We can get some idea from looking at how many recalls were announced for bacteria-contaminated meat or meat products by food companies - often under strong pressure from the USDA, which is in charge of keeping our meat safe. Mind you, this kind of data badly underestimates the real situation. Much of the time - who knows how much - contamination is either not caught, or else, is hidden, so that a costly recall will not have to take place. Also, bacteria are only one possible food contaminant, including in meat. Finally, much of meat and other food contamination occurs at later stages, for instance, at the meat market, in a restaurant, or in our homes. This would not result in a recall of products that have been distributed to wholesalers or retailers. Keeping all this in mind, here's an overview of meat recalls in 2009 that were not caused by bits of plastic, allergens, mislabeling or such other problems, but were due to 'bad bugs' that entered at early stages in the farm-to-fork process.
  • Bacteria caused at least 22 recalls of meat or meat products (such as sausages, cold cuts, meat pastes) in 2009, some small, others large-scale and multi-state recalls. In all, probably about 2 million pounds of meat were 'recovered' (read that as 'arrived back at the recalling company' ). We can assume that an even larger amount was eaten (recalls come too late, retailers and consumers don't hear about them).
  • The USDA announced one or more recalls of bacteria-contaminated meat or of a meat product every month of 2009, except for March (when there was just some allergens and mislabeling of products).
  • The most common bacteria involved in a recall in 2009 were the deadly E.coli 0157:H7 which was identified as the cause of fully 50%, or eleven meat recalls, in 2009.
  • Listeria bacteria (very dangerous to pregnanat women, people who have serious illnesses) were tied to seven outbreaks in 2009, usually in connection with processed products (such as smoked beef brisket, sausages, duck confit, bacon bit products and the like).
  • Salmonella bacteria caused four outbreaks.

Which is the most dangerous meat to eat? It's still the same as it has always been - ground beef, and especially ground beef made into hamburgers that you can just throw on the grill or into the microwave.

Bon app├ętit!

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