Food and Nutrition

Ground Beef is Unhealthy and Contaminated

| by Toni Brayer MD

I am a bit obsessed this week with Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver and his mission to reform the way Americans eat. I watched his new ABC show where he tries to reform the school lunch program in North Carolina where 50% of the town is obese. It is really a great show and it's great to see this type of "reality" TV rather than the usual fare. In honor of eating healthy, I am re-posting a blog from last year. It is worth repeating and here it is:

It takes a lot to shock me, but the article in today's New York Times about E. coli in ground beef is truly eye opening. I want you to read the entire article but here are some scary highlights and facts that show our meat sources are not safe for consumption:

  • A single portion of hamburger meat bought at most supermarkets is not from meat run through a grinder. It is an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of many cows and even from different slaughterhouses.
  • There is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for E. coli pathogen.
  • Hamburger meat might be labeled "Angus Beef" but it can be made up of low grade ingredients cut from areas of the cow that have contact with feces, which carries E. coli.
  • Many big slaughterhouses will only sell to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli because they fear that discovery will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others.
  • Meat grinders buy trimmings of fatty edges sliced from better cuts of meat and mix them with other fatty meat products that have been centrifuged and treated with ammonia to kill E. coli. One company, Beef Products Inc, produces seven million pounds a week that is sold to grocers and fast-food restaurants and served in the federal school lunch programs.
  • The Agriculture Department regulations allow hamburger meat labeled ground chuck or ground sirloin to contain trimmings from those parts of the cow.
  • Bacterial testing of ground beef is not required because the industry says the cost would unfairly burden small producers.
  • Costco tests trimmings for E. coli before grinding.
  • E. coli gastroenteritis is usually a mild disease. Five to 10% can be serious and cause hemolytic uremic syndrome and kidney failure.
  • There is no question that the U.S.D.A. does not protect consumers from contaminated meat.
  • Hamburger meat is not safe unless you have a butcher grind up a full cut of beef.


I will not be buying hamburger meat ever again. I just threw out some frozen meat from my freezer. The article disgusted me and the description of the slaughterhouses reads like the turn of the century book The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, which eventually led to the Meat Inspection Act.
We have learned that we cannot count on the government to protect our finances and we should not count on the government to protect our food. It is up to each of us to learn about and support safe, small organic farming, eating from food sources that are close to home and certainly avoiding ground meat that comes from the grocer.