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Betting On Burgers

August 28, 2015

The newest issue of Consumer Reports arrived yesterday with an alarming cover. It’s the disembodied head of a living steer staring straight off the page into your eyes. Written across his head reads the message, “Wanted: Safe Beef”.

My instinct was that the magazine would get the story all wrong. Safe food is irradiated food. And nobody wants irradiated food. Real food grows in the dirt. It’s surrounded by bugs and animal droppings. It’s full of bacteria. And for the most part, I think that’s okay because human beings turn out to be more bacteria than human. Man, I love the human biome project. This stuff never ceases to blow my mind.

So beef. It’s not safe. What a shocker. Get me my smelling salts.

On the blog, I’m sure I’ve talked about the giant feed lots and their massive sewage pools. I know I’ve mentioned that conventional beef gets fed chicken feathers, which is contaminated with spilled chicken feed, which is made from cows, which is how cows can contract mad cow disease. We’ve talked about the routine use of antibiotics on healthy animals, the importance of happy meat, and all the goodness that comes from grass fed cows.

Still, there are a few facts in this month’s cover story that are unsettling.

Consumer Reports tested 458 pounds of ground beef. It was purchased as 300 packages, from a variety of stores, in a variety of states. The beef was a variety of types, with most being conventional, but there’s some more sustainably raised stuff in there too. Okay. Here’s the big news. I hope you are sitting down. And I hope you aren’t eating a burger.

“All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination.”

Every single pound of beef had poop in its pack. But not all poop based bacteria are created equal. E. coli was found in nearly 60% of the conventional beef. But do you want to hear something surprising?

The same nasty bacteria were only found in 40% of the more sustainably produced beef samples. It’s amazing to read a mainstream periodical making a strong case in support of grassfed organic beef over its conventional counterpart. Pretty much for all the reasons I’ve been outlining over the years.

Where Consumer Reports and I part ways is on the guidance of avoiding rare hamburgers. As dirty as our beef supply may be, there were only five deaths related to E. coli tainted beef from 2003 to 2012. Even at the highest projections, that’s only an average of 3,000 people sickened a year. That’s not even a fraction of a percent. From my calculations, that makes your odds about one in one hundred thousand of getting sickened from tainted beef.

And it would seem like you could lower those odds by eating grassfed organic beef. Or really, just eating significantly less of it than your average American (who eats a lot more than you might think).

The one thing that I was surprised to learn from this article was about the idiosyncrasies of beef definitions. You may want to be sitting down for this one too. Do you know what“Ground Beef” means these days?

“Meat and fat trimmings from multiple animals, as well as other beef components, such as esophagus, diaphragm, or cheek of the animal.”

And apparently “Pure Beef Patties” which are “also called 100 percent beef patties [are] similar to ground beef but can contain partially defatted chopped beef. Regular ‘beef patties’ can also contain defatted beef, and organ meats, water, binders, fillers, and extenders.”

I’m going to keep those in mind, and keep an eye out for ground chuck, ground round, or ground sirloin. Those more descriptive terms help to ensure you’re getting the meat you think you’re getting.

Man, this news is making the ground brisket burger at BurgerFi seem more and more appealing by the moment. But dammit, I’m still going to eat my Swifty’s Buffalo Burger rare. You can pry that thing from my cold dead hands. And if I succumb to liver failure from eating such a decadent treat, it would have been worth it.

Because it’s still more dangerous to get into your car and drive to work than it is to experience something that brings waves of cascading pleasure over every inch of your being. Yeah. I’ve gotta get to Swifty’s.

Maybe I can get some exercise at the track tomorrow at Travers. I’m starting to think that I won’t be able to shake this weight until I start to get a bit more movement. Dammit. I hate movement.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2015 10:53 am

    For all of the reasons mentioned, I have not ordered a hamburger in a restaurant in many years, nor purchased “ground beef” or “patties” at the market. The only beef that gets past my door, or more importantly my lips, I’ve ground myself, or purchased from a local farmer.

    • August 28, 2015 11:50 am

      Exactly my sentiment. Why are people so slavishly devoted to buying pre-ground meat??? Buy a chuck steak or some brisket and grind it up yourself.

  2. RogerK permalink
    August 28, 2015 11:49 am

    Two thoughts:

    1. The TU had a “Number of the Day” at the top of the Business section yesterday that said, “2 That’s the number of people who contracted trichinosis, disease from a parasite living in raw or undercooked meat, in New York state in 2013, the most recent year available. The two people were between the ages of 30 to 39.”

    2. Swifty’s should be added to the TTTT list of possible future sites.

  3. August 29, 2015 3:27 am

    I read the Consumer Reports articles on beef.

    This is a prime example where one needs to take one’s tin foil cap off and use common sense.

    Ground beef is exceedingly popular, and people are eating millions and millions of pounds of the stuff. If it were really that dangerous, people would be getting sick a lot.

    They’re not.

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