Looking for Ways to Keep Ground Beef Safe

US - In the last decade, Tyson Fresh Meats has transformed its slaughterhouse to combat a potentially deadly type of food poisoning, adding huge chambers to scald carcasses and wash them in acid, steam vacuums to suck away microbes and elaborate gear to test hundreds of meat samples a day.
calendar icon 6 December 2007
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J. R. Simon, a regional laboratory supervisor for Tyson, testing meat samples for E. coli bacteria.

In all, the beef industry says it spends upward of $350 million a year to keep harmful pathogens out of the meat it sells to the public. But even as expenditures keep rising, the industry appears to be losing ground.

Late last month, the Agriculture Department announced its 20th recall of beef this year because of contamination with a toxic strain of the bacterium E. coli. That is only one recall shy of a record set in 2000 and matched in 2002.

No one knows for sure what is causing the jump in recalls, though theories abound, from the cyclical nature of pathogens to changes in cattle-feeding practices caused by the popularity of ethanol.

This much is clear: Fifteen years after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants made people aware that hamburgers could kill them, the American beef industry is still searching for a practical method to prevent the toxic E. coli strain from contaminating ground beef.

“If you gave me a million, zillion dollars and said give me a plant that doesn’t have E. coli, I couldn’t do it,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It’s not about the will. It’s about the ability.”

Source: NewYorkTimes

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