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Ground Beef


hm212
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There have been so many recalls lately (including one today involving Coleman ground beef sold by whole foods in MA) - Is there any way to be sure the meat we eat is safe?

If they grind at the store, does that make it the meat safer? Does it pick up e-coli in the grinding process or in the cow?

Would it kill me if I ate one of these burgers or just make me sick? Not looking to start a "This store is dirty flame" - Just asking a potentially serious question.

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Major caveat here - I do not work for the FDA, FSIS, or other inspector groups, so this is totally not a professional opinion.

From what I understand, much of E. coli contamination comes in the fast paced butchering process. If the cow's digestive tract contents (crap) are introduced into the meat through rupture or spillage this can lead to contamination.

I think in general, a clean store butcher shop produces safer ground beef than the frozen stuff packaged at IBP or another massive slaughterhouse. That said, there are still plenty of opportunities for nasties to enter the process even when store ground. You also aren't exactly sure what part of the "beef" ground beef really is. I prefer to buy something specifically marked "ground round" or "ground sirloin" for quality control, or simply grind my own at home (very easy for me to do, but YMMV).

I think that the conventional wisdom is to heat all ground beef to 165 degrees to ensure destruction of bacteria.

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I think that the conventional wisdom is to heat all ground beef to 165 degrees to ensure destruction of bacteria.
...and flavor :lol:

On a steak, say a sirloin, the bacteria lives on the external surface of the meat. Put your sirloin into a hot pan and the surface, which is exposed to hundreds of degrees of heat, will become inhospitable to bacteria very quickly. Even extremophiles.

When meat is ground, the surface becomes the insides, so any bacteria present on the surface are now distributed throughout the meat. If cooking to medium rare, the interior won't get much hotter than 130, 135 - not enough to kill the nasties.

Whether you grind your meat at home or just have your grocer do it, you should be just fine. You're probably also fine with the pre-ground stuff, but you'll get better quality and will be slightly safer the other way.

Let me put it this way... anyone afraid of getting a tummy ache from eating should be locking themselves in their basements and screaming bloody murder whenever they even see an automobile:

325,000 hospitalizations from food-borne illness in the US

5,000 deaths from same

2.9 million injuries due to car accidents in the US

42,636 deaths from same

Incidentally, about 3,000 people each year from choking. That can happen with ANY food, not just tainted meat. ;)

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Whether you grind your meat at home or just have your grocer do it, you should be just fine. You're probably also fine with the pre-ground stuff, but you'll get better quality and will be slightly safer the other way.

Let me put it this way... anyone afraid of getting a tummy ache from eating should be locking themselves in their basements and screaming bloody murder whenever they even see an automobile:

A risk I might be willing to take, but not one I am willing to expose my kids to. I cook their burgers medium well for the same reason I use a car seat in the car - it's not worth the risk of them getting ill or injured.

This Whole Foods recall shocked me. I pay more, sometimes a lot more, to buy our meat there because it's touted as safer. To hear that it's processed at the same filthy packing plants as supermarket and wholesale meat makes me very angry.

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This Whole Foods recall shocked me. I pay more, sometimes a lot more, to buy our meat there because it's touted as safer. To hear that it's processed at the same filthy packing plants as supermarket and wholesale meat makes me very angry.
It didn't really shock me. It just made me think of Michael Pollan :lol:. Noting that Coleman was the middleman who used the Nebraska Beef company for processing now makes me feel suspicious towards Coleman products. I like their hot dogs, for instance. The fact that WF didn't know this was happening also makes me question things like how carefully they are ascertaining human treatment of animals by their suppliers and things like that.

I've been buying 3-packs of Dakota Beef ground beef at Costco. They have their own processing plant. Still, that's not really any guarantee either. Sometimes, I grind my own meat, but the grinder I have is ancient and hard to clean, so I don't do that as often as I'd like. If I'm not going to do that, I feel like any place I'm buying ground beef from is a gamble.

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I've been buying 3-packs of Dakota Beef ground beef at Costco. They have their own processing plant. Still, that's not really any guarantee either. <snip> I feel like any place I'm buying ground beef from is a gamble.

I buy that "organic" beef at Costco sometimes, too. As I do with Costco steaks, I keep the one-pound packs of ground beef in the freezer. Theoretically, the prolonged time at 0 degrees should kill nasty organisms. I generally use it for meatballs or meatloaf, which are cooked to well-done, although I occasionally use it for grilled burgers. So far, no problems. In our case, we both have good immune systems and our daughter no longer eats beef. I avoid cheap supermarket ground beef and only rarely eat fast food burgers: I confess that two or three times in the past four months I have gone to ZBurger, mea maxima culpa. And I've gone to Hell, but that doesn't count.

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If you have room and time, the kitchenaid meat grinder does good work on chuck roasts, and allays many of my fears about ground beef processing. I use this method anytime I'm making burgers and have the forethought to pick up a chuck roast at WF. I guess there's still the possibility that the surface will be infected and my grinding will still distribute it through the meat, but it makes me feel better about taking that risk. I guess theoretically you could sear the outside to kill buggies, but then you're left with crispy bits in your burger (or loss from carving off the now-seared bits before grinding). Anybody done anything like this?

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I've had great results from "grinding" in my food processor. About 10 one-second pulses of 1-2" chunks gives a good product, with in my opinion, better texture and flavor than store-ground beef.
[soapbox]Whole Foods used to grind beef in store. You used toget beef groud that day or the day before and if there was a problem it was limited to a single small batch in a single store. But then the powers that be decided buying preground beef in larger batches was a better approach and the grinders were mothballed. Now if there is a bad batch, it is larger and affects a wide numberof stores. The is a move towards corporate food practices at Whole Foods. [/soapbox]
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So everyone is bitching about WF, so I assume that everyone thinks this statement from the article is complete BS.

The meat Whole Foods recalled came from Coleman Natural Foods, which unbeknownst to Whole Foods had processed it at Nebraska Beef, an Omaha meatpacker with a history of food-safety and other violations.

And I agree with those folks that grinding at home produces a better product.

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There have been so many recalls lately (including one today involving Coleman ground beef sold by whole foods in MA) - Is there any way to be sure the meat we eat is safe?

If they grind at the store, does that make it the meat safer? Does it pick up e-coli in the grinding process or in the cow?

Would it kill me if I ate one of these burgers or just make me sick? Not looking to start a "This store is dirty flame" - Just asking a potentially serious question.

I'm having a bit of dietitian moment reading this, I'm not a food safety expert but this is an issue that came up often for my patients.

Ground beef is more of a problem than steaks because you grind it. Grinding the beef means that the bacteria on the outside of the beef, that on a steak would be seared to an oblivion, are now spread through all of the meat. The same is true for any type of ground meat product, especially poultry. The biggest commercial risk of contamination occurs in the butchering process. During the butchering process, the intestines can get accidently cut and this causes feces to spill on the beef intended for consumption. E. Coli is an intestinal bacteria, and it is normal for it to be present in the gut of a cow. I have read as well that cows fed commercial corn based feed are more likely to have the bad E. Coli O157:H7 present in their gut than grass fed cows. Please don't quote me on that.

There is alot to be said for knowing where your food came from. Grinding your beef at home isn't necessarily safer than buying commerically ground beef. The vast majority of food borne illness occurs because of improper handling in the home. The best way to prevent food borne illness is to practice good food safety from purchase to plate.

This Economic Research Service report from the USDA actually gives a good synopsis of the hamburger issues:

Consumer Food Safety Behavior: A Case Study in Hamburger Cooking and Ordering

http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer804/

If you have more questions, you can ask Karen, which is a cool hotline the Food Safety and Inspection Service offers

www.fsis.usda.gov/food_safety_education/Ask_Karen/index.asp#Question

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[soapbox]Whole Foods used to grind beef in store. You used toget beef groud that day or the day before and if there was a problem it was limited to a single small batch in a single store. But then the powers that be decided buying preground beef in larger batches was a better approach and the grinders were mothballed. Now if there is a bad batch, it is larger and affects a wide numberof stores. The is a move towards corporate food practices at Whole Foods. [/soapbox]
According to an article in today's Post Business section, the beef in question came from contaminated primal cuts that Whole Foods then ground in-store. In addition, Coleman had sold its beef business to another company at the beginning of June, and they were the ones who used Nebraska Beef.
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I get virtually all of my ground beef from Laurel Meat Market. Hell I can watch them grind, to order just for me if I ask. It's impossible to guarantee that you will avoid any problems, but I feel pretty good about these folks who run Laurel Meat Market.

Besides, they added a big giant chicken outside the store to keep the big cow company. :lol:

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According to an article in today's Post Business section, the beef in question came from contaminated primal cuts that Whole Foods then ground in-store. In addition, Coleman had sold its beef business to another company at the beginning of June, and they were the ones who used Nebraska Beef.
I stand corrected that stores still do a part of the grinding in house.

The decision was not to completely discontinue fresh ground, but to offer prepacked ground beef (they have offered the prepacked "tubes" of ground beef) which is processed off property. Whole Foods basically contracts with Coleman for cows that meet their protocols. So the beef in these preprocessed packs is from Whole Foods beef, but not necessarily ground in store.

The prepackaged frozen patties and the boxed patties sold fresh are all ground off site.

The other meats (chicken, veal, pork) were ground off site anddelivered ground. Depending on the supplier, this may be large batch processing which is inherently more risky. The larger the batch the more likely it is to be contaminated. Even if the risk is relatively low, the risk of contamination grows with batch size.

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325,000 hospitalizations from food-borne illness in the US

5,000 deaths from same

2.9 million injuries due to car accidents in the US

42,636 deaths from same

I eat ground meats a number of times per year. I drive in my car every day and most days several times. The usage of my car vs ground beef may be enough to make the risk relationship fairly even. I am, however, a low user of ground beef compared tot he national average, but quoting absolute risk numbers without some consideration of the "dose" is not statistically valid.

Today in the US, most people wear seat belts. It is illegal not to. This has reduced the death rate from car accidents and the severity of the injuries from their previous level significantly.

Today is the US, there is more mechanization of ground beef product and the batch size is much larger. When you are grinding 22,000 pounds of beef in one batch and there is 1000 pounds of contaminated beef in the input, you get 22,000 pounds of contaminated beef. If you are grinding in small batches, the likelihood of getting 22,000 pounds all contaminated is much much lower. If that 22,000 pounds of beef is shipped to local stores and ground on site, then the risk is lower still. None of this increasing of the speed and batch size is associated with, by my reading of the evidence, an increased vigilance by food safety folk. The increasing number of cases of food borne illness seems to be consistent with this. Remember that the first case of illness linked to e coli 0157 was in the late 80's or early 90's and now it is a small but rapidly growing problem.

The big problem with corporate farming is that the economies of scale are all associated with large batch processing. The result is that smaller riscks are compounded, and not spread out. A large pool is good for insuraning against physical risk. A large production pool is bad for preventing food borne illness.

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I stand corrected that stores still do a part of the grinding in house.

The decision was not to completely discontinue fresh ground, but to offer prepacked ground beef (they have offered the prepacked "tubes" of ground beef) which is processed off property. Whole Foods basically contracts with Coleman for cows that meet their protocols. So the beef in these preprocessed packs is from Whole Foods beef, but not necessarily ground in store.

The prepackaged frozen patties and the boxed patties sold fresh are all ground off site.

The other meats (chicken, veal, pork) were ground off site anddelivered ground. Depending on the supplier, this may be large batch processing which is inherently more risky. The larger the batch the more likely it is to be contaminated. Even if the risk is relatively low, the risk of contamination grows with batch size.

I was surprised to read in the Post article that the contamination was from primal cuts. I had assumed it was pre-ground beef. That makes me feel less comfortable with in-store grinding as a safer alternative to bulk pre-ground meat.
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I was surprised to read in the Post article that the contamination was from primal cuts. I had assumed it was pre-ground beef. That makes me feel less comfortable with in-store grinding as a safer alternative to bulk pre-ground meat.
You're still going to be safer with store ground meats. Let's say 1 out of 100 primals is contaminated. If ground at the factory in one big batch resulting ground beef from all 100 primals is contaminated. If ground at the store with bits and trimmings from, say, 3 or 4 primals then grinder gets cleaned until new batch of ground meat is needed. Only ground beef from those 3 or 4 primals is contaminated and rest is safe.
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