By: Dr. Mercola |
Factory farming methods produce a number of side effects that can threaten your health and even your life. Contamination with disease-causing fecal bacteria is one of them.
To combat foodborne illness, the food industry has created solutions that further worsen matters — sterilization methods such as high heat, chemicals (chlorine-based or lactic acid washes, for example), and/or radiation are all common industry attempts to “sterilize” your food before it reaches the store.
Yet the central issue remains unaddressed, which is the lack of hygiene standards in the raising, slaughtering, and processing of the animals.
A large percentage of meat products become contaminated when the animals’ intestines are punctured and stool spills onto the meat being processed.
This is the real problem — not undercooking, as properly processed healthy meat will not harm you if it’s undercooked because it will not be contaminated with fecal bacteria.
In 2011, researchers found about half of all meats and poultry sold in grocery stores were contaminated with drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes most staph infections.
Ground Beef Accounts for Most E. Coli Outbreaks
As reported by Consumer Reports:
“Just before the July 4 holiday this year, 13.5 tons of ground beef and steak destined for restaurants and other food-service operations were recalled on a single day because of possible contamination with… E. coli O157:H7.
That particular bacterial strain can release a toxin that damages the lining of the intestine, often leading to abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases, life-threatening kidney damage…
Between 2003 and 2012, there were almost 80 outbreaks of E. coli O157 due to tainted beef, sickening 1,144 people, putting 316 in the hospital, and killing five. Ground beef was the source of the majority of those outbreaks.”
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) epidemiologist Hannah Gould, food poisoning is vastly underreported. The CDC estimates that for every reported case of E. coli O157, another 26 incidences go unreported.
Beef is also a common cause of salmonella outbreaks.
Why Ground Beef Is So Unsafe
Ground beef tends to be far more problematic than solid cuts of meat, and the reason for this is that in the latter the bacteria tend to remain on the surface of the meat. Once you cook it, most of the bacteria are destroyed.
When the meat is ground, however, those same bacteria get mixed throughout the meat, contaminating all of it. So if you like your hamburger on the rare side, the pathogens may still be alive and well in the center of the beef patty.
Another contributing factor is the fact that in the making of ground beef, meat from a number of animals is mixed together, and all you need is for one contaminated animal to affect a very large batch of meat.
Moreover, as noted by the featured article:
“Ground beef (like other ground meats) can also go through several grinding steps at processing plants and in stores, providing more opportunities for cross-contamination to occur. And then there’s the way home cooks handle raw ground beef: kneading it with bare hands to form burger patties or a meatloaf.
Unless you’re scrupulous about washing your hands thoroughly afterward, bacteria can remain and contaminate everything you touch — from the surfaces in your kitchen to other foods you are preparing.”
CAFO Ground Beef versus Organic Ground Beef
Consumer Reports purchased 300 packages (totaling 458 pounds) of ground beef from 103 stores in 26 cities across the US. As reported in the featured article:
“We bought all types of ground beef: conventional — the most common type of beef sold… [and] beef that was raised in more sustainable ways, which have important implications for food safety and animal welfare.
At a minimum, sustainably produced beef was raised without antibiotics.
Even better are organic and grass-fed methods. Organic cattle are not given antibiotics or other drugs, and they are fed organic feed. Grass-fed cattle usually don’t get antibiotics, and they spend their lives on pasture, not feedlots.”
The beef samples (181 conventionally raised, 116 more sustainably produced, including organic grass-fed) were then analyzed for the presence of five types of disease-causing bacteria:
- Clostridium perfringens
- E. coli (including O157 and six other toxin-producing strains)
- Staphylococcus aureus
The samples were also put through secondary testing to ascertain whether the bacteria were resistant to antibiotics used in human medicine. Their results showed that:
- 100 percent of all ground beef samples contained bacteria associated with fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli). In humans, these bacteria can cause blood or urinary tract infections
- Nearly 20 percent contained Clostridium perfringens, a bacteria responsible for an estimated one million cases of food poisoning each year in the US
- 10 percent contained a toxin-producing strain of Staphylococcus aureus, which cannot be destroyed even with thorough cooking
- One percent contained salmonella, which is responsible for an estimated 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the US each year
- Three of the conventional samples had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which kills nearly 19,000 people each year.6, 7 None of the sustainably raised beef samples contained MRSA
Organically Raised Beef Is Safer; Grass-Fed Is Best
Overall, beef from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) was more likely to be contaminated with bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, compared to beef from sustainably raised animals. According to Consumer Reports:
“… 18 percent of conventional beef samples were contaminated with superbugs — the dangerous bacteria that are resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics — compared with just nine percent of beef from samples that were sustainably produced…But the biggest difference we found was between conventional and grass-fed beef. Just six percent of [grass-fed] samples contained superbugs…
‘We know that sustainable methods are better for the environment and more humane to animals. But our tests also show that these methods can produce ground beef that poses fewer public health risks… We suggest that you choose what’s labeled ‘grass-fed organic beef’ whenever you can,’ Rangan says.”
Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Center for Food Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports also noted that:8
“This study is significant, because it’s among the largest scientific studies to show that sustainable methods of raising cattle can produce cleaner and safer ground beef.”