Ground beef is the most popular beef product consumed in the U.S. Americans consume millions of pounds of ground beef every day without incidence.
Today, USDA announced a large recall of beef trimmings and ground beef. The products have not tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, but USDA has determined that a precautionary recall is appropriate. It is important to be clear: USDA did not say that the recalled product contains E. coli O157:H7, but noted that it did not have evidence to prove that meat does not contain harmful bacteria and opted to recall the product. It is likely, in fact, that most of this product has already been safely consumed.
USDA also stressed the importance of thorough cooking of ground beef to 160° F and of using an instant-read meat thermometer to verify cooking temperatures. This advice is good advice today -- and every day when cooking ground beef. Some consumers may choose to purchase irradiated and precooked ground beef.
Fresh beef, like all fresh foods, carries bacteria. In the beef industry, we know that cooking destroys bacteria that can cause foodborne disease. For eight years, we have applied safe handling labels to every package of raw meat instructing consumers to handle raw products carefully and to cook them thoroughly, which ensures safety.
Scientific groups have stated unequivocally that no amount of microbiological testing can ensure that ground beef is pathogen free. Why? Because tests provide definitive information about only the small 325-gram sample that is tested - not the other meat manufactured along with it. In fact, E. coli O157:H7 can be found on one side of hamburger patty, but not on the other: it is just that elusive.
Plants ensure beef safety by using preventive food safety technologies like steam pasteurization of carcasses, hot water washes, special rinses and careful slaughter and fabrication procedures.
Data show that E. coli O157:H7 is extremely rare in ground beef, occurring at a rate of less than one percent, and that illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 are even more rare, although they are extremely serious when they do occur. We take E. coli 0157:H7 seriously and the beef industry has made reducing and eliminating E. coli on ground beef its top research priority. The fact that contamination occurs only rarely in ground beef is testimony to the work being done by industry to protect the food from contamination.
Consumers with questions are urged to call USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555 or to visit < http://www.FightBAC.org>.
AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Together, AMI's members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory, public relations, technical, scientific and educational services to the industry. Its affiliate, the AMI Foundation, is a separate 501(c)3 organization that conducts research, education and information projects for the industry.