I have followed Brandon at Lift Big Eat Big (LBEB) on Instagram for awhile now. His Instagram channel will delight foodies, agriculturalists, health and fitness buffs of all levels… well basically everyone! Brandon asked me to write up an article for his website on myths in agriculture, so I did. In turn, I have asked Brandon to answer a few questions for me – stay tuned, you will see more from him.
Until then, head over to the LBEB webpage and check out my article, as well as all of the other great information. Like what you see? Sign up to receive the newsletter.
Last week media headlines indicated there is poop or fecal material in hamburger meant for human consumption. Yikes, that is a scary thought… Thankfully, it is untrue. This post will explain why these headlines are full of half-truths, and steps you can take to ensure you are practicing safe hamburger cooking.
About 50% of the red meat we eat is in the form of hamburger (aka ground beef), it is versatile, convenient, and usually the price is right. It is always important to use good sanitation when preparing food and to cook meat to the proper internal temperature (Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart).
Before meat or hamburger is demonized, it should be noted that ALL foods (plant and animal based) have the potential to make you sick. Did you know the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is responsible for tracking food recalls, withdrawals, and safety alerts? And they make that list available to us? You can read the 2015 list here. The thing I want to most point out: all foods, regardless of how they were grown/raised (organic, conventional, small farm, large farm, etc.) are on the list. These recalls do not necessarily happen because of a possible foodborne pathogen problems, it is often because a product is mislabeled, does not indicate it contains a possible allergenic ingredient, or has a distribution problem.
The original report by Consumer Reports can be read here. As is the case with sensational headlines, bits and pieces of the article were cherry picked and the good information did not make headlines…
Consumer Reports said: “All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli), which can cause blood or urinary tract infections. Almost 20 percent contained C. perfringens, a bacteria that causes almost 1 million cases of food poisoning annually. Ten percent of the samples had a strain of S. aureus bacteria that can produce a toxin that can make you sick. That toxin can’t be destroyed—even with proper cooking.”
Eric Mittenthal, with the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) says “many in the media have focused on one claim from the study that has led to several very misleading and inaccurate stories—the idea that there is poop or fecal matter in your meat. Certainly this makes for eye grabbing headlines, but Consumer Reports did not find fecal matter in meat. In fact, nowhere in its report does it mention the words “fecal matter” or “poop.” What it found were bacteria, namely generic E.coli and Enterococcus, that are sometimes classified as signal organisms for fecal contamination, but different than fecal matter. The majority of this was Enterococcus which microbiologists now say are not good indicators of fecal contamination. What Consumer Reports found were bacteria that are commonly found in the environment, so it is no surprise to find them in beef, blueberries, anywhere else in a grocery store, or on your computer keyboard or phone. That doesn’t mean there’s poop on your phone, just that bacteria that once originated in a gastrointestinal tract is there. Simply put, they are different. For media to claim otherwise is simply inaccurate and misleading.”
It is important to note that the bacteria found are not commonly associated with foodborne illnesses from eating undercooked meat. It takes time for the toxins to form. These bacteria are more commonly associated with cooked food left out too long at the wrong temperature says Daren Williams, Executive Director of Communications, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).
Additionally, Dr. Gary Acuff, Texas A&M microbiologist and director of the University’s Center for Food Safety, confirmed that the presence of bacteria do not indicate fecal contamination. “A “fecal indicator” bacteria does not mean feces is present. It means that bacteria originally associated with a gastrointestinal tract are present, and that might indicate the possible presence of a pathogen like Salmonella or Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). We use generic E. coli to give us a heads-up that something might be wrong with sanitation or our process, not to indicate the actual presence of feces. Read the entire NAMI response here.
Mandy Carr-Johnson, Ph.D., senior executive director, Science and Product Solutions, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), says “The good news is the bacteria found in the Consumer Reports tests are not the type of bacteria commonly associated with foodborne illness in ground beef.” Carr continues to say, “As an industry, our number one priority is producing the safest beef possible. Ground beef is the safest it has ever been with greater than 90 percent reductions in bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7 and significant reductions in salmonella in recent years. The beef community continues to invest millions of dollars in developing new safety technologies with the goal of eliminating foodborne illness.”
The Consumer Report says “Between 2003 and 2012, there were almost 80 outbreaks of E. coli O157 due to tainted beef, sickening 1,144 people, putting 316 in the hospital, and killing five. Ground beef was the source of the majority of those outbreaks. And incidences of food poisoning are vastly under-reported. For every case of E. coli O157 that we hear about, we estimate that another 26 cases actually occur.”
So let’s pencil this out… That is 10 years of time (counting 2003 and 2012), 8 cases of E. coli O157 tainted beef per year, sickening 114 people per year, putting 32 in the hospital annually, and killing 1/2 person a year. While I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of the effects of food-borne pathogens E. coli O157 in this case), these numbers on an annual basis may seem more reasonable. Or think about the fact you have a bigger risk of being in a car accident, get hit crossing the street, or struck by lightning than you do from eating E. coli O157 tainted beef! This statement mentions that not all cases may be reported, this may be due in part to people not knowing what made them sick, people’s acidic stomachs killing possible pathogens, or not enough people getting sick from a common source to make it a case. Persons who are very young or old, pregnant, or who have immunocompromised systems would be most at risk with foodborne pathogens. Fun fact: packing plants regularly swab carcasses for pathogens, to ensure optimal food safety.
The Consumer Report says: “It’s not surprising to find bacteria on favorite foods such as chicken, turkey, and pork. But we usually choose to consume those meats well-cooked, which makes them safer to eat. Americans, however, often prefer their beef on the rare side. Undercooking steaks may increase your risk of food poisoning, but ground beef is more problematic. Bacteria can get on the meat during slaughter or processing. In whole cuts such as steak or roasts, the bacteria tend to stay on the surface, so when you cook them, the outside is likely to get hot enough to kill any bugs. But when beef is ground up, the bacteria get mixed throughout, contaminating all of the meat—including what’s in the middle of your hamburger. Also contributing to ground beef’s bacteria level: The meat and fat trimmings often come from multiple animals, so meat from a single contaminated cow can end up in many packages of ground beef. Ground beef (like other ground meats) can also go through several grinding steps at processing plants and in stores, providing more opportunities for cross-contamination to occur.”
This statement is partially true, on a whole cut of meat (i.e. steak, chop, roast) potential pathogens would only be on the surface of the meat and should be killed during the cooking process. However, when a ground meat product is made, the meat may be handled several times, come from several animals, and in general just have more places in the trimming/grinding process where contamination can occur. This is no different than a glass of orange juice containing juice from several oranges, a glass of milk containing milk from several cows, or a bag of rice containing rice from several fields.
Consumer Reports says: ” And then there’s the way home cooks handle raw ground beef: kneading it with bare hands to form burger patties or a meatloaf. Unless you’re scrupulous about washing your hands thoroughly afterward, bacteria can remain and contaminate everything you touch—from the surfaces in your kitchen to other foods you are preparing.”
This is a true statement. I often hear people blame the animal farmer, the meat packer, the retailer, or the restaurant if they get ill, however, the consumer (you and me) can be the ones to blame. It is very important to practice good sanitation and food safety at home. Here is a good read on common food safety myths.
This was Consumer Reports methodology: “… Consumer Reports decided to test for the prevalence and types of bacteria in ground beef. We purchased 300 packages—a total of 458 pounds (the equivalent of 1,832 quarter-pounders)—from 103 grocery, big-box, and natural food stores in 26 cities across the country. We bought all types of ground beef: conventional—the most common type of beef sold, in which cattle are typically fattened up with grain and soy in feedlots and fed antibiotics and other drugs to promote growth and prevent disease—as well as beef that was raised in more sustainable ways, which have important implications for food safety and animal welfare. At a minimum, sustainably produced beef was raised without antibiotics. Even better are organic and grass-fed methods. Organic cattle are not given antibiotics or other drugs, and they are fed organic feed. Grass-fed cattle usually don’t get antibiotics, and they spend their lives on pasture, not feedlots.”
Bias alert… While I am glad they bought beef raised in various ways, implying that organic and grass-fed cattle are safer or more sustainable is a biased statement. It is unfair to report that one beef raising system is more sustainable than another. “All beef production models can be sustainable,” says Dr. Kim Stackhouse, executive director of sustainability for NCBA. “Beef sustainability is defined as producing more product with fewer inputs, which is the goal of every beef producer in this country. To cattle farmers and ranchers, sustainability means balancing environmental responsibility, economic opportunity, and social diligence while meeting the growing global demand for beef.”
Also, the statement grass-fed cattle usually don’t get antibiotics is just an assumption. There is not a governing body to monitor the grass-fed meat market like there is for the organic market. It cannot be simply assumed that just because the meat came from a grass-fed system that it has not received antibiotics. This is a major flaw in the Consumer Reports methodology. I did a series on meat labels and what they mean, to read more about grass-fed, grain-fed, organic, natural, etc. go here.
Consumer Reports also indicated “One of the most significant findings of our research is that beef from conventionally raised cows was more likely to have bacteria overall, as well as bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, than beef from sustainably raised cows. We found a type of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus bacteria called MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), which kills about 11,000 people in the U.S. every year, on three conventional samples (and none on sustainable samples). And 18 percent of conventional beef samples were contaminated with superbugs—the dangerous bacteria that are resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics—compared with just 9 percent of beef from samples that were sustainably produced. “We know that sustainable methods are better for the environment and more humane to animals. But our tests also show that these methods can produce ground beef that poses fewer public health risks.”
“Our concern is that leading consumers to believe organic and grass-fed beef are safer could make them think they do not need to cook those products to 160 ºF, creating a food safety concern,” says Dr. Mindy Brashears, professor, food microbiology and food safety, Texas Tech University. “It is important to note that bacteria was also found in the organic and grass-fed samples. The bottom-line is that no matter what the label says ground beef should be cooked to 160 ºF as a final step to ensure safety. Both S. aureus and C. perfringens found in the Consumer Reports study are toxin-producing bacteria that are typically associated with picnic-type food poisoning cases where food has been left out for long periods of time at the incorrect temperature, not undercooked ground beef,” says Brashears.
The good news, says Dr. Mandy Carr-Johnson is the Consumer Reports study did not find pathogenic bacteria like shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STECs) in any of the samples, including conventional beef. Controlling pathogenic bacteria is the key in terms of ensuring safety. Unfortunately, the Consumer Reports study confuses that issue with the finding of generic E. coli and other bacteria that are not commonly associated with illnesses from consuming undercooked ground beef. Read the entire article from Facts About Beef here.
When in doubt, cook ground meat products to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and thoroughly wash your hands, cooking tools, and surfaces. If you are dining out, ask for your burger to be cooked to a degree of doneness of medium-well. If you are served an undercooked burger, do not be afraid to send it back to be cooked more. Eating beef should not be a scary experience, it should be an enjoyable and flavorful experience!
The headlines about poop in your ground beef was meant to draw attention and sensationalize this story, however, it is full of half-truths and incorrect information. When stories like these hit the newsstands and media waves, it is important to read and understand them, to question what they are saying, and to engage the people who work in these industries and who know the facts that can be backed up with science and research.
Taco seasoning is a staple in our house… tacos, burritos, taco salads, nachos, soups, casseroles, etc. In the past I have purchased a large container of it. However, when I recently used up what I had, I decided to look up recipes to make my own. I knew it would be easy enough, and that the ingredients would not contain any preservatives or fillers.
I am a bit a spice and meat rub lover/connoisseur (if one can be of such things), so I had everything on hand for the do-it-yourself taco seasoning.
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. Southwest chili powder (if you do not have this, use 2 Tbsp. regular chili powder)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. dried ground oregano
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (can be omitted or substituted for regular paprika)
3 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. seasoned salt (can be omitted for less sodium option)
2 tsp. black pepper
Mix together. Store in air tight container. Makes approximately 6 Tbsp. of taco seasoning. ** You can adjust amounts for spiciness too, we like things a little spicy in our household.
What other spice mixes do you like to make? Do you make your own meat rubs?
Is organic food safer, healthier, or more nutritious than conventionally produced food? Research indicates there are no significant differences. Rhonda at Iowa Meets Maui does a very nice job of discussing this issue.
For the past year or so I have heard about and have seen “Real Food” phrases, campaigns, and marketing pushes. I know what real food means to me, but my definition is much different than what the people using it define it as (more on that in a minute).
I wanted to see how others defined real food, so I did an informal poll of my Facebook friends and family and asked: When you hear the term “real food” what do you think of?
Below are their responses, in order of most common answer to least common answer:
– Home-cooked/grown: 16
– Fresh/raw/whole: 13
– Not processed: 12
– Meat and potatoes or other comfort/satisfying foods: 8
Real Food is food which truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth. It is a food system–from seed to plate–that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability. Some people call it “local,” “green,” “slow,” or “fair.” We use “Real Food” as a holistic term to bring together many of these diverse ideas people have about a values-based food economy.
This is about more than supermarket labels. The Real Food Challenge has developed an innovative Real Food Calculator, which provides in-depth definitions of “real food” and a tracking system for institutional purchasing. With this tool, “real food” is broken down into four core categories: local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane.
Real food means different things to different people based on your experiences and food preferences.
What does real food mean to you? Do you think there are right and wrong answers for what real food is? Does the term “real food” imply that the food is somehow better? Do you use “real food” interchangeably with other words? If so, what are those?
A lot of things I have read recently about food waste have referenced that having a plan for food is a main component to reducing food waste. It is estimated that Americans are wasting about 40% of food grown for human consumption! Wow.
Collectively, we can all contribute to reducing food waste, decreasing methane emissions of rotting food in landfills, and leave more money in our pockets. Today I want to chat about meal planning. I have been a come-and-go meal planner over the years. But in 2015, one of my goals was to be better at it. I want to share some of the things I have found that work for me.
1. Start small. I do not plan each and everything thing we eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks 7 days a week. I just plan our evening meals, and usually just for five nights.
2. Align your menu with your week. There are some weeks I have two to three night meetings, during those weeks a strict menu is not in the cards for me. If possible, I try to do the bulk of the cooking on the weekend prior to my week of meetings. It is a win-win in our house, I can take leftovers during the week and the Hubs has dinner on the nights I am gone.
3. Make a list. Have you ever gotten to the grocery store, just to realize you left your list at home? Ugh me too (I know what you are thinking, just make your list on your phone and then that is not a problem, I use my phone for a lot of things, but as my grocery list, it is just something I just have been able to do yet). For me the list is very important. I rely heavily on it for remembering what I need to get. I have also been that person that goes to the store with my mental list of four items, and I come home with $80 worth of stuff! Creating a list helps to just shop for what you need (reducing waste) and it keeps more money in your pocket by limiting impulse purchases. When I buy canned vegetables or dry goods I will also buy an extra here or there to keep a healthy supply in the pantry.
4. Don’t beat yourself up if the menu changes. I write down a list of things I plan to make during the week and decide the day before what we will be having, some people I know assign food items to each night. There is no right or wrong way to do it, do what works best for your family. Sometimes during the week something else comes up and I don’t get around to making something I had planned, we just move that item to the weekend (one of the reasons I usually just plan for five meals a week).
5. You don’t have to always cook. Some nights I come home and I just want to have a glass of wine and kick my feet up. Luckily no little people depend on us for food in those cases. On those nights I will just cut up cheese, fruit, vegetables, and gather some crackers. If we have french bread for dipping (sliced wheat bread just doesn’t do it for me), I will bust out some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This meal is perfect on the nights where you don’t want to cook, clean your kitchen, or even be in the kitchen.
6. Have fun with it. I like to cook and try new recipes, so I challenge myself to try one to two new recipes a week. Some of these new recipes have turned into family favorites for us. Even with this goal, we still get stuck in the rut of having some of the same things over and over, that is when I start increasing the amount of new recipes I try.
7. Don’t forget the staples. As I said before, I only plan for our dinner meals, however I know our eating patterns and shop for those. Breakfast items usually consist of things like oatmeal, yogurt, milk, string cheese, toast, smoothies, fruit, or any combination. Lunch is either leftovers or sandwiches (meat/cheese or PBJ). Plus I always make sure we keep stuff on hand for spaghetti, which is great for a quick and easy meal and one meal the Hubs has mastered. Additionally, I always purchase fruits and vegetables that are great in a main dish or by themselves as a healthy snack. In our house having these things always on hand makes food prep for all meals easy.
8. Embrace your leftovers. With just two people in our household leftovers are pretty common. But we love leftovers. They are great to take for lunch in the following days. Sometimes we also have a “leftover night” where we eat all of the random leftovers, think of those nights as a 5-course meal nights 🙂 If you are not a leftover person, I encourage you to work on cutting your recipes so that you are only making what you can eat in that one setting, thus reducing food waste.
9. Random ingredients left at the end of the week. Sometimes you may not get around to making something you had planned, or you bought more of an ingredient than you needed for your recipe. It seems that every week I use up these random ingredients by making soup, stew, chili, smoothies, or salads. All of these are handy for using up leftover fruits, vegetables, meat, broths, and other ingredients.
10. Involve your family. When I bust out 10 new recipes a week, I ask Hubs to choose a couple he would like me to try. This works out well because I have already picked the ones I want, but he also gets a voice in choosing the final menu for the week. It is a better shared experience for both of us.
I have found that by planning out evening menus we are saving money when we go grocery shopping, we very rarely throw away any food, and we are having fun cooking and tasting new recipes.
Do you plan your meals? What other tips do you have?