Much is a buzz over the Consumer Reports article How Safe is Your Beef? where 300 samples of retail ground were analyzed for bacteria between grass and grain fed beef highlighting best results as “sustainable” beef.
When a CBS Morning News anchor asked Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D. & Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports, “Shouldn’t we suspect some bacteria in any beef?”, her answer was all telling, “Absolutely”. So, what’s the beef with ground?
Getting the Facts Straight
Let’s get one thing straight: all raw meat has bacteria on it. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) documents the following:
1. Some of that bacteria [found in the report] such as certain types of Enterococci, are not pathogens and are actually beneficial like probiotics in yogurt. Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus are typically associated with time and temperature abuse of cooked products and generally come from contamination after food is handled. All bacteria, antibiotic resistant or not, are killed with proper cooking to the recommended temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. The bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing is not the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not pathogenic bacteria, meaning they do not cause foodborne illness. The primary pathogens of concern in raw ground beef are Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). These are not mentioned or reported in their findings.
3. The number one industry priority is producing the safest meat and poultry possible. This is done by focusing attention on bacteria which are most likely to make people sick, particularly E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. It is telling that Consumer Reports did not highlight finding these bacteria on products they tested as a strong indication of the overall safety of beef.
It’s also important to note Consumer Reports did not approach the industry for scientific data on the subject material nor make their data available to the industry for evaluation.
Safety in Numbers
Rangan went on to say, “The question here is, can we get it better?”
NAMI says the Consumer Reports data is staggeringly inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) data which shows that E. coli O157:H7 occurs at a rate of less than one tenth of one percent in ground beef products. This has been reduced 93 percent since 2000.
You’d think a 90+ percentage improvement rate should be something to talk about. But the report makes no mention of that, or the highly regulated nature of the industry when it comes to food safety to begin with.
Federal compliance via on site inspectors takes place daily in meat plants to ensure food safety rules and technologies used to destroy bacteria are all in place and working. Some companies, like Buedel, also add a third layer of independent audits to their safety protocols.
Between regulating agencies and the industry itself, what kind of ‘better’ is Ms. Rangan really angling for here?
Throughout the news segment, Rangan compared each study finding between conventional beef [grain fed] and non-conventional beef [“sustainable, organic, natural and grass-fed”] to demonstrate conventional beef always had more bacteria.
NAMI also points out the use of, “Organic, Natural and Grass-fed are marketing terms that are not an accurate indicator of either sustainability or safety. All beef production models can be sustainable. The path to more sustainable beef is to ensure that every beef producer is utilizing the resources available in their part of the country to the best of their ability – whether grass, grain or other locally-produced renewable feeds like distillers grains.”
A quick visit to the Consumer Reports Facebook page reveals an ulterior agenda:
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Consumers Union (CU), is the non-profit “policy and action division” of Consumer Reports – a magazine published by Consumers Union. CU describes themselves as, “an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.”
Herein lies a huge problem for readers today, when cause masquerades as media.
To be an ‘expert’ in anything you need to have a deep command of the knowledge base on all fronts. This article is filled with quotes from Consumer Reports own department heads, Grass-fed cattle farmers, and an epidemiologist from the CDC.
There were no quotes from actual food scientists (federal or corporate) nor grain fed cattle farmers, food retailers, industry media, leaders, professional groups and the like. Talking to the Department of Agriculture should have been a slam dunk at the very least.
There is also no mention of the politically based Facebook post in the online published article either. Other than this social nudge: We urge you to #BuyBetterBeef and continue the conversation with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vine.
If you’re still not sure whether How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is a valued news or views piece, perhaps their article disclaimer will help:
Editor’s Note: Funding for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed are those of Consumer Reports and its policy and advocacy arm, Consumers Union and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
The takeaway on this is threefold: 1) Food safety is alive and well in the beef industry. 2) Always cook your beef to 160°. 3) Beware of expert media crusading cause.
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