Since the publication of this New York Times story about E. coli in processed ground beef, I’ve been fielding questions about food safety.
The problem: Commercial burgers aren’t made from single cuts of meat. Instead, the meat in burgers comes from several sources, including slaughterhouse trimmings and scraps.
“Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli,” New York Times reporter Michael Moss writes.
Testing for E. coli in the manufacturing process is limited. It doesn’t prevent 0157:H7, a virulent E. coli strain, from entering the food supply. Moss points out that ground beef sickened 8,000 folks in 16 E. coli outbreaks during the past three years.
And as seen in this video, simply following the handling and cooking directions on packages of ground beef won’t prevent the spread of E. coli in your kitchen:
So, what’s the best way to handle ground beef? Tips come after the jump.
1. Follow the advice in my story about food safety.
The part about cutting boards is especially important:
“Here’s a typical scenario: A home cook slices poultry or meat on a cutting board, transfers the meat to a plate, then washes the board with soap, water and a sponge before using it to chop vegetables. Does this prevent the spread of bacteria?
No. The sponge cleaned the cutting board but didn’t sanitize it.
There’s a difference between cleaning and sanitizing, says Don Waddell, the culinary division director at the Institute of Technology in Clovis. ‘Cleaning means wiping off visible debris,’ he says. ‘Sanitizing reaches the microscopic level.’
Sanitizers include Clorox Anywhere Hard Surface daily sanitizing spray or Lysol Food Surface Sanitizer. Neither is appropriate for wooden cutting boards, but are OK for plastic ones.”
At home, I have a dishwasher-safe Epicurean cutting board.. I place color-coded, thin plastic cutting boards on top of the Epicurean. (Red for red meat, green for vegetables, yellow for poultry/seafood, white for breads and other foods. Seems like overkill, but swapping out boards reduces sanitation time while cooking.)
2. Grind your own meat. Buying whole cuts of meat such as chuck and sirloin, then grinding them at home, reduces the chances of E. coli in your food.
If you don’t have a meat grinder, don’t worry. Alton Brown shows us how to make burgers with a food processor at 5:08 in this video: