E-Coli is a nasty little bacteria that when ingested can cause nausea, bloody diarrhea, and even death in the chronically ill and in young children. It’s in foodstuffs that are contaminated by fecal matter, pure and simple, whether it’s from contaminated water in the field or in the slaughterhouse from processing.
In the field, the crops may become contaminated from cattle grazing nearby and in the slaughterhouse it’s from part of the intestines of the animal being ground up with the meat. It has been estimated that almost all of the ground beef found in fast food restaurants has roughly a teaspoon of fecal matter in it.
This may sound disgusting, but it’s really not harmful to our health if the meat is thoroughly cooked. That’s how Jack-in-the-Box got in trouble in 1994. Someone failed to follow the cooking instructions to cook the hamburger enough and as a result two children died. The company lost half of its sales even though the supplier was the one who contaminated the hamburger meat. Jack-in-the-Box has since come up with the strictest sanitation standards in the business.
Since the Jack incident there seems to be several outbreaks of E-Coli poisoning a year. Last year it was jalapenos and cilantro and tomatoes. This year we had problems with romaine lettuce and here we go again, this time it’s ground beef again.
According to CNN: “Consumers are being warned to check their freezers for recalled beef that may be contaminated with E. coli. The Modesto California-based meat processor Valley Meat Company is voluntarily recalling approximately one million pounds of ground beef. The beef may contain a rare strain of the bacterium E. coli O157:H7. The Valley Meat Company says the ground beef patties and bulk products were produced between October 2nd, 2009 through January 12th, 2010.”
So far seven people have been sickened between the months of February and June by the contaminated ground beef. Ground meat products are the most likely to be contaminated by E-Coli. A steak may have some E-Coli on the surface of the meat, but even a rare center is probably safe to eat. But ground meat products, especially hamburger, should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees. Be sure to check it with a thermometer.
When I cook hamburgers on the outside grill I find that it’s really hard to get the internal temperature right without burning them. So I cook them part of the way through on the grill and then simmer them in BBQ sauce on the stove until the internal temperature is 170 degrees.