Ground beef is safe and getting safer according to USDA data, which show the bacteria levels on raw product have trended downward consistently thanks to new food safety technologies and new Department of Agriculture meat inspection approaches.
Public Citizen’s report today, which attempts to indict the U.S. ground beef supply based on the presence of Salmonella in raw product intended to be cooked and bearing a label saying “cook thoroughly”, is part of an annual anti-meat activist ritual designed to generate controversy and confusion among consumers just two days prior to the start of peak grilling season.
If the presence or absence of Salmonella on a raw product were a measure of whether a product is safe or unsafe, then the government would be forced to require that only canned and cooked foods be sold. Salmonella is bacteria that occurs throughout the food supply on meat, poultry, eggs and even some fruits and vegetables. It is also present on many of Americans’ favorite pets - like turtles and iguanas.
Just as human beings have bacteria in their bodies, so do livestock and poultry. With the exception of irradiated meat and poultry products, available in limited quantities, technology is not commercially available today to produce a bacteria free raw, uncooked meat and poultry supply -- nor is that technology likely to exist in the near future. Although industry has made enormous strides in reducing bacteria on raw products, both government and industry continue to urge consumers to cook fresh meat and poultry thoroughly. Every package of raw meat and poultry carries a safe handling label.
The meat and poultry industry is not alone in its view of Salmonella. This is also the unanimous opinion of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has addressed this very issue. In a nation that reveres free speech, activists can say what they want to the media - there are no regulations on the accuracy of their statements.
But the science, the law and the courts -- as well as recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data showing a 15% drop in salmonellosis since 1996 -- say exactly the opposite. Ground beef, handled and cooked properly, is safe and getting safer.