Tag Archives: E coli

The Hidden Dangers of Feedlot Beef

Photo via TakePart.com

Photo via TakePart.com

Feedlot beef is not a new topic for Life Is Fare, but I feel compelled to once again share an article about the beef that’s sold to most grocery stores and restaurants in the U.S.

The Kansas City Star investigated the processing methods–and their hazards for human health–among the largest beef packers in the U.S. This group includes the big four— Tyson Foods of Arkansas, Cargill Meat Solutions of Wichita, National Beef of Kansas City, and JBS USA Beef of Greeley, Colo. — as well as the network of feedlots, processing plants, animal drug companies and lobbyists who make up the behemoth known as Big Beef.

What The Star found is “an increasingly concentrated industry that mass-produces beef at high speeds in mega-factories that dot the Midwest, where Kansas City serves as the “buckle” of the beef belt. It’s a factory food process churning out cheaper and some say tougher cuts of meat that can cause health problems.”

Here’s a list of other key findings:

  • Large beef plants, based on volume alone, contribute disproportionately to the incidence of meat-borne pathogens.
  • Big Beef and other processors are co-mingling ground beef from many different cattle, some from outside the United States, adding to the difficulty for health officials to track contaminated products to their source. The industry also has resisted labeling some products, including mechanically tenderized meat, to warn consumers and restaurants to cook it thoroughly.
  • Big Beef is injecting millions of dollars of growth hormones and antibiotics into cattle, partly to fatten them quickly for market. But many experts believe that years of overuse and misuse of such drugs contributes to antibiotic-resistant pathogens in humans, meaning illnesses once treated with a regimen of antibiotics are much harder to control.
  • Big Beef is using its political pull, public relations campaigns and the supportive science it sponsors to influence federal dietary guidelines and recast steaks and burgers as health foods people can eat every day. It even persuaded the American Heart Association to certify beef as “heart healthy.”

Are you sure this is what you want to eat?

E. Coli in Europe: One of the Most Deadly Outbreaks

If you’ve been following the E. coli outbreak in Europe, you likely know that the death toll is up to 25 in Germany, plus one in Sweden, and 2,648 people have fallen ill, 689 of them with a potentially deadly complication that causes kidney failure and neurological damage. That’s according to today’s New York Times.

While E. coli is prevalent in the U.S., with many stories of meat contamination as well as produce over the last several years, you don’t often hear about deadly outbreaks in Europe. Now we’re on the verge of one of the world’s most lethal infections.

The story has been confusing. The Times notes that, “initially, the German authorities blamed cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce from Spain for the infection, which has been spreading since May 1. Then, last weekend, investigators switched their attention to sprouts grown in northern Germany as a potential cause.”

Then the quest for the source took a turn when “authorities in Magdeburg, in eastern Germany — far from the original epicenter of the infection in northern Germany — said traces of the pathogen identified in the outbreak had been found on discarded cucumber leftovers in a garbage can belonging to a family among those sickened by E. coli.”

There is currently disagreement between the federal Health Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute (the country’s disease control agency) over the status of the outbreak. “There is a declining trend in new cases but it is not clear that it is because the outbreak is really waning or whether it is because the population are being more careful in what they eat,” the Robert Koch Institute said in a statement.

Demand has decreased because authorities have warned consumers to avoid eating cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and sprouts, causing the German Association for Fruit and Vegetable producers to lose the equivalent of $7 million a day because of the crisis.

At the core of the issue is our global food system. While authorities in the U.S. aren’t worried about contamination from Europe, the FDA has stepped up testing of those foods imported from affected countries as a precaution, although very little is imported.

“It’s a wake-up call around the world,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an article on Fox News Latino.

The World Health Organization says that “every year there are EHEC (E. coli O104:H4) outbreaks in different parts of the world including Europe, sometimes involving HUS [kidney damage] and even deaths, but the number of affected people is very much lower than what Germany is now experiencing…This particular strain, a rare serotype of EHEC , is severe.”

Indeed. The risk of contamination seems to be a by-product of a global food system that is constantly pushing to feed more and more people as efficiently as possible.

E. Coli: Another Reason to Buy Local Produce

Sure, E. coli can slither into our food system in myriad ways. But listen to the Columbus, Ohio, Public Health spokesperson in this video. Officials are spending hours tracking cases and the origin of the bacteria that people have ingested from eating Romaine lettuce.

As of today, it “has sickened at least 19 people, three of them with life-threatening symptoms,” according to the Associated Press. The FDA is focusing its investigation on lettuce grown in Arizona as a possible source for the outbreak. According to a USDA press release, the recall includes romaine lettuce products sold by Freshway Foods for food service outlets, wholesale, and in-store retail salad bars and delis in a number of states east of the Mississippi river. It seems that most of the people who have gotten sick ate the lettuce at restaurants or institutions, such as universities.

All the more reason to buy local and know your farmers. Local produce is fresher and healthier because it doesn’t sit in warehouses for days or weeks. Plus, you know who you’re buying from. You can ask questions about the way the food is grown. There’s a certain accountability that gets factored in when farmers meet consumers face-to-face, as opposed to a factory farm that grows Romaine lettuce and ships it across the country.

Why not ask your local restaurant where they source their produce the next time you go for a meal?

E. Coli Rears Its Head in California

Just in case you were looking for that next meat recall, here’s one from California:

The USDA announced yesterday that Huntington Meat Packing Inc., a Montebello, Calif. establishment, is recalling approximately 864,000 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Although I couldn’t find a website for the company, the online information I dug up indicates it employs approximately three people.

Usually, these E. coli situations occur at major feedlots. So I’m curious what’s going on here. That’s a heck of a lot of wasted meat. And only three people to do the work?

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.

Why Eating Feedlot Meat Is a Gamble

Photo via The New York Times

Photo via The New York Times

Many of you who follow my blog or with whom I’ve had conversations haven’t seen Food, Inc. because you don’t want to know the real truth about the industrialized meat we consume in this country. I understand your reluctance because this knowledge might mean a change in your lifestyle, your choices, and the cost of your food.

Please, read this article from The New York Times about Stephanie Smith, a young woman who became ill from E. coli (the bacteria found in the bovine intestinal tract and carried in feces) simply from eating a home-cooked hamburger that her mother made for her. It was bought at the grocery store and produced by Cargill, one of the largest meat processors in America (also scrutinized in Food, Inc.).

The hamburger’s ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas, and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria. (This ammonia process is also shown in Food, Inc.) Because the meat is tested for E. coli after processing at Cargill, the actual source of E. coli is unknown.

Processors like Cargill are allowed to use low-grade cuts of meat (from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces) in their hamburger meat, which increases the risk of E. coli.

I suppose there’s a risk of E. coli at any slaughterhouse. But why gamble by eating meat from a feedlot, where cattle wallow in their own waste, carrying feces on their hides right into the slaughterhouse, the origin of your T-bone steak? Cows were meant to roam the prairie and eat grass, not feed on corn, confined in a squalid pen.

If you don’t have time to read the 6-page article online, at least watch the video that tells Stephanie’s story. Then, let me know if you’re still buying feedlot meat at the grocery store.