The Answer to How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is VERY!

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?

Buedel Fine MeatsPictured above: Three different headlines tell the same story. Kudos to CBS News (center) for taking the high road!

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?

Cause Reporting

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:

Buedel Fine MeatsFor 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.

Wrap Up

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.

Additional Reads & Resources

https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/106823/pid/106823

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/data-collection-and-reports/microbiology/ec/e-coli-o157h7-year-to-date/ecoli-o157-raw-beef-testing-data-ytd

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/newsroom/news-releases-statements-transcripts

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-grass-fed-beef-is-safer-than-corn-fed-beef.php

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-superbugs-are-on-most-meat-and-poultry.php

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Dollars & Cents vs. Dollars & Sense

Let’s compare and contrast two stories in the recent news about pork production.  One is a story of dollars and cents, and one is a story of dollars and sense.

Dollars & Cents

3D chrome Dollar symbolLast September, Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer sold itself to the Chinese for $4.7B. Smithfield raises about 15M pigs per year producing over 6B pounds of pork sold under popular brand names including Farmland, Armour, Cook’s Ham, Krakus Ham, Patrick Cudahy and John Morrell. When the sale to Chinese went through, Smithfield’s CEO stated: “This is a great transaction for all Smithfield stakeholders, as well as for American farmers and U.S. agriculture. The partnership is all about growth, and about doing more business at home and abroad. It will remain business as usual — only better — at Smithfield.”

‘Business as usual’ is a telling comment. Smithfield is notorious for factory farming; incorporating the use of inhumane gestation crates, confined animal feeding operations and environmental pollution.

To quell some of the220px-Gestation_crates_3 negative press, Smithfield is “recommending that its contract growers phase out the practice of keeping female hogs in small metal crates while pregnant.” This is quite the bold move for a factory farmer where disease, pollution and animal confinement are standard practice.

On 1/21/14 more news broke: Problems Persist After Smithfield Sells Out to Shuanghui; Future Remains Uncertain.  The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a Notice of Intent to sue the current and former owners and operators of a Smithfield owned feeding operation, located in North Carolina, to stop pollution caused by illegal waste disposal.

Dollars & Sense

Ironically, one day earlier, the NY Times posted this story: Demand Grows for Hogs That Are Raised Humanely Outdoors.

Consumer awareness and c7960787444_a1b4b8476d_ooncern about the use of antibiotics, humane animal treatment and the environment is growing. More chefs and restaurateurs are featuring pasture raised, all natural pork on their menus. The popularity of “farm-to-fork” and “nose-to-tail dishes” is growing.

Opposite to the Smithfield mass production model, pigs raised by family farmers who use sustainable production methods which preserve the land and its resources for future generations, is fast becoming en vogue. The pigs are happy, the farmers are happy, and consumers are happy eating a better product.

pigsinsnow-300x224Pigs raised outdoors using traditional farming and animal husbandry methods cost more because it costs more to raise them this way.  However, the Times article also points out that as much as consumers say they want their meat to come from humanely raised animals, they still resist paying higher prices for pasture-raised pork.

This resistance is what continues to drive companies like Smithfield to keep producing cheap pork, and the consequences that go along with it.

Finding Middle Ground

The situation becomes one of trade-offs. Which is worse: Paying less for cheap pork thereby supporting the issues associated with pervasive factory farming, or paying more for pork thereby supporting the issues associated with humane, natural and sustainable farming? In my opinion, one will never fully replace the other, but both can improve.

As a consumer, I prefeMenusr to spend a little more to eat healthier and better tasting naturally raised pork. I also feel good that a by-product of my preference, is supporting the family farmer.

On the other side of the fence, I see the daily dilemma Buedel Fine Meats customers face between their desire to avoid offering commodity pork and trying to manage their food costs. Many chefs and restaurateurs are simply unable to absorb the higher cost of all natural pasture raised pork and maintain their desired profits.  They too are voting with their dollars.

Perhaps there is a middle ground.

A movement to change the status quo can be ignited by slowly adding pasture raised pork items to meals and menus. Start with one or two items, promote them and educate the consumer on the value. My guess is that a few will stick, and then maybe a few more.

If we all do this, we can begin to deliver a subtle message to the Smithfield’s of the world in a language they understand – money.  Soon they’ll listen because they have to return profits to their shareholders.  When the factory farmers see more dollars being spent for pasture raised pork, they’ll want to capture some of the growing segment – then someday perhaps, most of it, and we’ll all be better off.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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Meat Picks | 6.13.13

CigarBQue

cigarsThere are still some tickets left for the 2nd annual CigarBQue slated for Friday, June 21st.

CigarBQue raises funds on behalf of the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation who helps impoverished communities where cigars are produced. Created by Executive Chefs (and friends), Rick Gresh,(Primehouse), Giuseppe Tentori, (Boca) and Cleetus Friedman, (Fountainhead), Gresh says they came  up    with the idea to do an event when they couldn’t logofind a good place to “get together to eat, drink and have cigars”. The trio hopes to expand their charitable concept to other cities in the future. See our full interview with Chef Gresh here.

Burger of the Month

PetetheButcherBurgerChicago’s prestigious Saloon Steakhouse honored Buedel Master Butcher, Peter Heflin, this month by creating the Pete the Butcher burger for their monthly promotion. The half pound prime grade burger, which comes topped with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, horseradish and smoked kielbasa, has patrons smacking their lips in total Saloon-style satiable satisfaction. “I am not worthy to be a part of the exploding Chicago burger movement in such an exquisite setting as Saloon Steakhouse,” Heflin reflected. “Thank you, Chef Boris!”

What is Local?

In preparing for the NRA Show last month, we put together some new cheat sheets for defining and buying “local”. Beyond distance, local is really more about: healthier eating, fresher foods, family farmers, environment, humane animal treatment and sustainable agriculture.BuedelLocalLogoTM

Our team also developed a logo to show local support. Please feel free to share and use!

New Addition

LWoodsChineseTakeOut2L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge in Lincolnwood came up with a great idea – adding Chinese take out to their carryout business. Offering appetizers, fried rice and standard entrees such as Mongolian Beef and Kung Pao Chicken, L. Woods definitely delivers the best of everyone’s world. You can of course order online too.

Dads’ Day Out

Did you know that Father’s Day is the third biggest dining out hFathersDauoliday after Mother’s Day and Valentines Day? According to the National Restaurant Association, it is estimated that 50 million Americans will take dad out for a meal this Sunday. Going to “Dad’s favorite” is the leading factor in deciding restaurant choice.

Happy Father’s Day!

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From the desk of John Cecala  Twitter@BuedelFineMeats Facebook BuedelFanPage

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Meat Picks | 4.5.13

Restaurant Social

There was an insightful article earlier this week posted on Sysomos about a Toronto area restaurant that works their digital marketing without an anchor website. Using Tumbler as their primary information resource, the FARMHOUSE Tavern, works the free social/blog platform as a base for their PR and promotional efforts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

FARMHOUSE says they like these platforms not only because they are all free to use, but also because they feel the value of letting “people directly engage – be it through follows, tweets, likes and shares”, have allowed them to build a successful word of mouth network they couldn’t have achieved without them.

The Yoke’s on You

NRN recently reported the Egg White Delight McMuffin will make its national debut on April 22nd. This version of the iconic fast food breakfast will be made with a whole-grain English muffin, egg whites, Canadian bacon and a slice of white Cheddar for 260 calories. (A regular McMuffin has 300.) Egg white alternatives are also going to be made available for all of McD’s breakfast sandwiches.

Hands On Learning

My business partner Darren Benson and I recently attended a two day short course on Sustainable Agriculture at Colorado State University sponsored by Niman Ranch. We literally found ourselves back in school for an intense dose of actual curriculum taught by leading professors and scientists in the field.

One of many lessons learned: the best sustainable development practices plan ahead for seven future generations. Read on at: Sustainable Agriculture: The Short Course.

Bayless Beer

If you missed the recent news about Rick Bayless’ new deal with Crown Imports, check the full read here. Chicago’s own is set to partner with “the nation’s largest” beer importer (i.e. Corona, Modelo) to develop a new craft beer. Congratulations, Chef B.!

Taste On Its Way Out?

Last month Chicago Magazine published a piece entitled, 5 Reasons We Wouldn’t Be Sad To See Taste of Chicago End. Adding to the fact that the City lost over a million on the festival last year, editors added why they think the Taste just ain’t what it use to be sighting lack of food quality and diversity, among other things. Do you agree?

This year’s fest is scheduled for July 10-14.

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Sustainable Agriculture: The Short Course

I recently had the opportunity to escape the daily responsibilities of adult life and go back to college for a couple of days. My business partner Darren Benson and I attended a two day short course on Sustainable Agriculture at Colorado State University sponsored by Niman Ranch.

Sustainability is a buzzword in everything from company mission statements to t-shirts these days. When we first learned about the opportunity, we thought the trip would be a fun escape from our daily grind where we could learn more about a social topic that seems to be of growing importance in the meat business.

We expected the typical business event: show up, listen to presentations, gain a few pearls of wisdom, network over dinner and have some fun. Quite the opposite was true. For industry leader Niman Ranch, educating others on topic and how it directly relates to our businesses meant presenting an intensive two day Masters level program covering sustainability from the eco-system to animal production systems. We unequivocally felt like we were back in school!

Staffing UpColorado State

Topics were approached from an academic perspective, in collaboration with Kraig Peel, PhD., Professor Animal Sciences Department at CSU and director for the Western Center for Integrated Resource Management. Dr. Peel engaged experts from the CSU staff to develop the curriculum which included a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on lab experiences. Dr. Robert G. Woodmansee, Professor at the Department of Rangeland Ecosystem Science, Senior Scientist – Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Dr. Joe Brummer, a soil and crop sciences specialist and  Dr. Jay Parsons, an agricultural production economist and risk management specialist were all part of the teaching team.

We were also given homework in preparation for the event. Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World by Brian Walker and David Salt and numerous other pre-course white papers were assigned for reading.

Day One

The first day we learned about the scientific basis of sustainability which in essence revolves around interacting ecosystems made up of people and communities; land and water and plants and animals.

A group of parts that operate together for a common purpose or function is an ecosystem.  For example, a football team has many players each with a specific role that all must work together to win the game.

In agriculture, a farm is an ecosystem that provides a living to the farmer and her family.  In order for the farm to persist, the farmer must preserve the capability of the land he/she depends on to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  Ecosystems are all around us, from microbiology to the Earth itself.

We learned that many of the problems we have today with greenhouse gasses, global warming, extreme flooding and vaster wildfires are largely due to a lack of sustainable resilience thinking in historical ecosystems. We also learned these types of problems are all solvable. Desired sustainable ecosystems can be created through coordinated efforts between science, management and policies. In other words, getting people with diverse self-interests to talk to each other is key.

Governmental policies are often made to solve an immediate problem for society by politicians solely interested in re-election by that society. When these policies are made without regard for the larger societal landscape, undesired future problems can occur.

An example of this can be made on the water management policies in the Florida Everglades. While their policies were put in place with good intentions to solve one problem, they unexpectedly created a new problem of cattails taking over the natural flora, which ultimately harmed the wildlife and food chain several years later. Other examples include the Farm Bill and government subsidies designed to help one group of society yet negatively impacting other parts.

It will be interesting to see how the governmental polices related to Fracking will play out with regard to our needs for oil versus food. Hopefully, there will be earnest coordination between the political, governmental and social communities to develop sustainable and resilient policies with regard to fracking.

The best sustainable development practices plan ahead for seven future generations.

Day Two

The second day we went to the CSU Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center (ARDEC) to study animal production systems in the U.S. and how Risk Management strategies in agriculture are employed.

The facility provides a wealth of opportunity to conduct investigations on agricultural problems using a coordinated and integrated approach of multi-disciplinary expertise. Such problems may include the entire system of agriculture from inputs (land, water, genetic materials) through production, to value added processing.

CSU's ARDEC

On site at ARDEC

ARDEC provides faculty, staff, students, agricultural producers, processors, agribusiness representatives, natural resource managers, governmental agencies and others with the opportunity to participate in work conducted on-site with live systems. We toured live animal operations and learned about the ways family ranchers can employ the sustainable thinking concepts on their own family farms.

Our program concluded with the Risk Navigator simulator – it was like a flight simulator for farming. We broke up into groups, and each group had to run a simulated farm for five years. We made simulated production decisions and then saw the impacts of our decisions extremely quickly on the ecosystem, animals and ultimately, the bottom line.  We had to raise cattle, grow hay, corn and other crops, practice crop rotation to preserve the soil, and cow/calf operations to preserve the herd. The simulator also threw us unexpected curve balls like drought, too much rain and disease throughout our simulation period.

It was just like being in a flight simulator. Some of us crashed and burned our farms, making fast money in the beginning but ultimately losing money or going bust in the long run by consuming the natural resources to fast. Others did exceptionally well by taking advantage of sustainable concepts and risk management strategies.

I’m proud to say that my group’s simulated farm survived and made a small profit, but I think it was mostly by accident. I personally gained a new appreciation for farmers’ life work, and just how hard they have to work make a living and preserve the farm for future generations.

Final Exam

Going back to college made me realize several things. First, how much I miss it! (How great would it be to have the priorities of a twenty year old again – just going to class and parties?) I also realized how much we take our natural resources for granted in today’s world of immediate gratification, quarterly earnings and politics.

I wish everyone could have the opportunity to fully understand the scope of sustainability and see it for more than just a buzzword.

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From the desk of John Cecala Twitter @ Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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Trend | Why Local is Hot

Local, Natural, Pasture Raised and Humane are some of the hottest buzz words used these days by the media, chefs, purveyors and consumers. Few discussions about healthy eating, the environment and social responsibility take place without them.

The team at Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions spends a lot of time discussing these trends with customers – local, natural, pasture raised and humane – they are all mutually exclusive topics which overlap. In a recent post, we wrote about What Makes Meat “Natural”?, but what does ‘Local’ mean when it comes to all foods?

Locality vs. Reality

Speaking in a geographical sense, there is no standard definition of local. Some define local as a food source within 250 miles of your proximity. Others say a local food source is within a day’s drive away, and yet other schools of thought say it depends on the types of food and that local can also be “regional” – like blueberries from Michigan to Chicago. This can get confusing, to say the least.

The whole notion of “local”, when it comes to food, in reality is more about healthy eating, supporting family farmers, sustainable agriculture, humane animal treatment, care for the environment, and fresher food, than it is about the exact distance from a food source to your door.

Historical Look

Part of the post World War II economic boom in our country was within agriculture. There was money to be made by feeding the masses with livestock and seed farmed commodities both domestically and overseas.

Large companies such as Cargill were out to feed the world and industrial farming grew at the expense of the independent family farmer. By the 1960’s the rural economy began struggling and many independents were losing their farms.

“The American farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything he buys at retail, sells everything he sells at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” – John F. Kennedy

The use of newly developed chemical pesticides, growth hormones and genetic modification science proliferated to increase yields and speed time to market and profit grew over time. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) were developed to bring more livestock to market faster in order to, quite literally, feed the demands for food and financial profits for commodities traders and industrial farming companies.

The by-products of these industrialized farming methods were water and air pollution. Inorganic fertilizers deteriorate soil, toxic ground water runoff affects rivers and lakes, increases in green-house gasses affect air quality and ozone.

Many of these issues are regulated much better today than they had been in the past, but still exist.

How Local Re-Evolved

In the mid 1980’s forward thinking food retailers like Whole Foods and Wild Oats Market began to emerge touting natural foods which were “better for you” and the environment.

Farmer’s Markets in urban areas soon began to grow in popularity where small farmers brought their harvest into urban communities for direct purchase by the consumer. Their food was produced naturally; it was fresher, better tasting, and healthier for consumers. The urban platform also provided an income for small farmers.

Today’s Local

Better food retailers have steadily increased consumer awareness of the benefits of natural foods and demand for them across the board.  Many consumers today are willing to pay higher prices for these foods because of the health and socioeconomic benefits attached to them.

According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2012 Survey, the top two hottest restaurant trends are: 1) Locally sourced meats and seafood. 2) Locally grown produce.

Why?

More of today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and how healthy it is. Chefs and Restaurateurs want to meet the increasing demand for fresher and natural foods while supporting their local communities.

The locally sourced movement creates a symbiotic relationship between farmers, businesses and consumers, while helping the local economy and environment with transparency into the way the food was produced.

Local farmers that raise their crops without harmful toxins and practice livestock-pasture/seed-crop rotation each year are sustaining the environment. They have a market for their harvest with local buyers such as retailers, chef and restaurateurs.

Local retailers, chefs and restaurateurs get transparency from the local farmers into how these foods have been farmed. They purchase them for their freshness and healthfulness for the betterment of their local business thus helping the local Farmer and offering more to their customers.

Local consumers seeking the benefits of healthier, environmentally friendly food patronize these local retailers and restaurants helping the local businesses. It is through this continuing cycle of economics and demand where everyone benefits.

This is Local when it comes to food: Healthy Eating, Supporting Family Farmers, Sustainable Agriculture, Care for the Environment, Fresher food.

Local is Near and Far

Depending on where you live it may not be possible or desirable to have locally farmed foods. You may not find or desire locally farmed blueberries in Nebraska as much as you would in Michigan, nor seek or want locally farmed beef in Michigan as much as you would in Nebraska. However, in both cases you can support Family Farms and the ecosystem of local farming even though they may not be physically “local” to your own proximity.

For example, Niman Ranch, a cooperative of over 750 family farmers across the country, requires their family farmers to raise livestock without hormones or antibiotics using humane and sustainable farming practices. In return, Niman Ranch guarantees to purchase 100% of their herds allowing these small family farmers to maintain a living and preserve their farms for future generations.

Educated buyers understand the importance of local based alliances such as Niman. They get that while you may not be able to buy local lobster in Illinois, you can choose to purchase seafood from a purveyor who works with family fisheries.

By supporting “local” food producers we can enhance the social, economic and environmental interrelationships of a community. And that’s stellar.

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From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

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