E. Coli Strikes Again


Last week another beef recall was announced, this time from National Steak and Poultry in Owasso, Oklahoma.

According to the Washington Post, twenty-one people in sixteen states have been infected with E. coli after eating beef in restaurants supplied by National Steak and Poultry. That was the count on December 30.

The company announced a recall of 248,ooo pounds of beef on December 24. The products, which range from steaks to sirloin tips, were packaged in October and shipped to restaurants, hotels, and institutions nationwide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) determined that there is an association between non-intact steaks (blade tenderized prior to further processing) and illnesses in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, and Washington.

The recall is considered a “class 1” or a “high health risk” by the USDA, which regulates the meat industry, because among the pathogens that can harm human health, E. coli O157:H7 is one of the most lethal.

According to the Washington Post, “Mechanical tenderization softens tough cuts of beef by hammering the meat with metal needles or blades that break up muscle fibers and connective tissue. It is often used to improve the tenderness of roasts and steaks that are cooked at a processing plant before being sent to restaurants. In the meat industry, it is referred to as ‘needled’ meat. Consumer advocates say mechanical tenderization poses contamination risks in meats that are served rare, such as steaks, because it can bring bacteria from the surface of meat to the center of the cut. A rare steak may be cooked enough so that bacteria on the surface are killed but those inside the meat survive.”

Wow. I never cease to be amazed by the techniques used in our industrialized food system. It’s bad enough that feedlot meat is already more contaminated to begin with because the cattle stand around in their own waste, which then makes its way into the slaughterhouse. But to increase the likelihood of further contamination by “needling”??

Even worse, the government seems to be aware that it’s a risk. From the Washington Post again: “This is something that’s been coming along. It’s not an overnight problem,” said Carol L. Tucker-Foreman of Consumer Federation of America, part of a coalition that wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in June to express concern about mechanically tenderized meat. “The USDA has been looking at this for a long time. . . . People have proposed ways to address it and nothing was done about it in the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and now the Obama administration.”

Every time I read about an E. coli contamination, I’m even more glad I made the choice to eat grassfed meat.

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