by Marion Nestle
Aug 31 2015

Bacteria in ground beef dangerous or natural? Depends on point of view, apparently.

Consumer Reports has just done a major report on the safety of ground beef.

In its announcement of the report, Consumer Reports says:

All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli)…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…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.

For public health people, results like this should send alarm signals.  The presence of E. coli, even the non-toxic type, indicates fecal contamination.  This is more than a yuck problem.  If E. coli is there, dangerous fecal pathogens could be there too.

But the North American Meat Institute headlined its response: “Consumer Reports Ground Beef Study Confirms Strong Safety of Ground Beef.”

The “bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing are types that rarely cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus, and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not considered pathogenic bacteria…Bacteria occur naturally on all raw food products from beef to blueberries so finding certain types on some foods in a grocery store is not surprising and should not be concerning,”

For the meat industry, fecal contamination is normal, natural, and you don’t need to worry about it—just be sure to cook your meat to a temperature high enough to kill all pathogens.

Good luck with that.

My advice: if you like ground beef rare, go to a butcher shop and ask to have one piece of meat ground for you in a freshly cleaned grinder.