This entry was posted on Monday, June 29th, 2009 at 12:39pm and is filed under Food Safety, Local, Meat, Agriculture, Health, Food Production. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
The latest E. coli-related beef recall has prompted me to stop unpacking moving boxes long enough to post. Obama Foodarama is urging people to “avoid beef like the plague“, pointing out that the recall is voluntary, so there is no guarantee that the recalled beef is actually being pulled from the shelves. On top of that, of course, is the issue of traceability and identifying exactly where all the contaminated beef ended up. The identifying establishment ID and processing time stamp do not usually appear on the final consumer package in ground beef and most individual cuts, and certainly not in any cooked products.
There’s no reason to avoid beef if you know your producer, who knows the date, time, steer and processor from which the ground beef came.
The inside of a muscle or cut of beef is relatively sterile. It’s only the surface that typically harbors bacteria. Ground beef is particularly susceptible to food safety issues and recalls for a couple of reasons. In ground beef, any bacteria on the surface of whatever is being ground gets thoroughly mixed in during the grinding process. Part of what goes into ground beef tends to be scraps and trimmings, which have lots of surface area and have been handled more than say, a rump roast. In addition, most ground beef is ground in batches containing meat or trimmings from a large number of cows. More cows = more chance that one of them will be contaminated.
And to add a final couple risk factors: Ground beef is often not ground at the site where the animals are slaughtered, but at a secondary processing plant, further obfuscating the trail to the source. Even in the few grocery stores that grind their own ground beef, it is a common practice to grind cuts that are nearing their “use by” date.
BUT, rather than go without your hamburger on the 4th of July, you can minimize your risk by purchasing ground beef through local producers. Our own Wild Type Ranch ground beef, for instance, is ground from a single animal and is packaged and frozen within a short time of its being cut from the side of beef. When we sell a package of ground beef, we know which animal it came from, when it was processed (and can usually tell you its name and pedigree, if you ask). This is fairly typical among the producers you meet at the local farmer’s market, or through Local Harvest or Eat Wild.
Ground beef produced like we do ours does not have that kind of icky smell (reminds me of sour feet). I was so sensitive to that smell after growing up on home-grown beef that I became a vegetarian while I was away at college! And the flavor is as different from grocery store ground beef as a homegrown tomato is from a grocery store tomato.
If you can’t get to the farmer’s market, the next best alternative is to purchase roasts (chuck, rump, etc) and grind them yourself using a grinder attachment on your mixer.