What is in Your Burger That is Grosser Than Horsemeat

| July 12, 2013 | 0 Comments
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What is in Your Burger That is Grosser Than Horsemeat

by Eddie Levin

An accidental chunk of horseflesh is one of the less frightening things that the meat processing industry can put in your ground beef.

 Caution: Germs Inside

Ground beef is not the only food with germs –there is, as we all know, an undetectable film of bacteria living on virtually every surface on Earth. But the keyword there is surface: the inside of muscle is largely sterile. When meat gets ground up at a processing plant, however, the outsides and insides of numerous animals get mixed together and mashed into homogenized meat spaghetti, and the bacteria is no longer restricted to the outside.

So while it’s generally okay to eat your steak bloody–provided you’ve seared the outside to kill off the germs–burgers are a different story. The USDA recommends cooking ground beef until the internal temperature measures 160°F — brownness alone is not a safe indicator.

 “Pink Slime”

Referred to as the “trimmings,” the leftover waste products from beef processing include fat, sinew, bloody effluvia, and bits of meat. Rather than throwing this waste product away or selling it to a pet food company, some enterprising meat plants transform their trimmings into a product they call “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB).

How this nasty mixture of slop gets turned into a delicious hamburger, let’s take a look: The trimmings are liquefied, then put into a spinning centrifuge to separate the remaining fat globs and solid bits. The resulting liquid is then treated with ammonia gas to destroy pathogens–of which there tend to be a lot–by raising the pH, and then frozen into small squares. The frozen squares are shipped off to supermarkets and producers, where they get added to actual ground beef as filler. The final meat product is sold raw as “lean ground beef” and sold as hamburger at restaurants and in school cafeterias.


Each year, the FDA tests meat samples from hundreds of supermarkets around the U.S. Between 2002-2011, inspectors found that an average of 2/3 of ground beef samples contained E. Coli, the bacterium that lives in your lower intestines and helps turn your part-way digested food from a liquidy green slurry into real, bonafide poop.
So how does so much E. Coli wind up in meat?  Fecal matter has a long history of finding its way into the consumer food chain, despite the Food & Drug Administration’s yearly tests. E. Coli is perhaps the worst bacterium carried by poop, which makes it kind of disgusting that inspectors found about 2/3 of ground beef samples contained the stuff between 2002 and 2011. E. Coli caused quite a stir in the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak that sickened more than 400 people and killed 3 kids.


Believe it or not, there’s a darker side to the poop-in-your-burger problem: Livestock are treated with heavy courses of antibiotics and, as a result, their bodies become breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria. In 2011, FDA tests found that over 15% of the E. Coli in ground beef is resistant to at least one class of antibiotics. Ground beef also contains drug-resistant Salmonella, Enterococcus, and Staphylococcus aureus.

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Everybody knows the basic issue with antibiotics. Overuse them, or casually use them, and you undercut the miraculous effectiveness of one of the most important classes of drugs humans have ever found.

Today, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are sold for animals. For livestock. For feed. The meat we eat is overwhelmingly produced in a factory farm system that floats on massive use of antibiotics. Now farms are producing the antibiotic-resistant superbugs that kill.

In the FDA study, almost 30 per cent of the chicken breast and ground turkey samples contained salmonella bacteria, which were resistant to five different classes of antibiotics, and almost 29 per cent of the ground beef sampled carried strains that were resistant to six. Salmonella can be spread to humans through consumption of meat from infected animals and through cross contamination (via machinery or the hands of the meat handler, for example).

Drugs, Chemicals, Metals, Pesticides

Ever had a copper burger? How about a penicillin taco? Granted, you didn’t order one—but you may have downed a patty with metal products or medicines in it and not even known.

A recent report by the USDA says food safety agencies aren’t up to par when it comes to keeping these harmful substances out of your system.

A 2010 USDA report found that residues of hazardous chemicals, including “veterinary drugs, pesticides, and heavy metals,” were widespread in the country’s beef supply. Unlike bacteria, whose harmful effects can be avoided by cooking meat thoroughly, chemical residues stick around in meat until the meat gets broken down in someone’s stomach. Some of those toxins, including certain pesticides and heavy metals, cannot be processed by the kidneys and liver, and will therefore stick around in the body’s tissues for life.

Usually, to ensure your meat won’t make you sick, you cook it well, right? Microbial contaminants can be killed by cooking, as Ari LeVaux explains in “American Meat Is Grosser Than You Thought.”

Metals, on the other hand, don’t die when they come in contact with heat—in fact, they can become even more deadly as their composition changes.

Though food borne illness is a relatively high priority for food safety agencies, rules don’t always exist to protect our food supply from other dangers. The U.S. has not set a regulatory limit on copper, for example. In short: passing regulations doesn’t mean meat is safe—it just means it’s legal.

The Thousand-Animal Burger

Due to the ground-up nature of hamburger meat, its impossible to look at it and know what everything in it is, or how many animals contributed to its make -up. Throw in a cut from this cow, another from that cow, and so on and so forth. That makes it harder to trace back say, a salmonella outbreak to its exact animal source.

Maybe there’s nothing inherently gross about the fact that, when you bite into a hamburger, you could be chewing the flesh of over 1,000 individual animals simultaneously. But if you’re the chief of the food-borne and diarrheal diseases branch at the CDC, you look at that hamburger and also see the pooled bacteria from a thousand farm animals, and you know that, the next time an outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella pops up somewhere, you’ve got your detective work cut out for you.

Grinding your own beef, or having it ground by a trustworthy butcher before your eyes, ensures that no more than a few cows (the juicy chuck of one, the sirloin of another, maybe) contribute to your burger.

Reference: www.popsci.com

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