Banish the Burger?

By Eleanor Barkhorn

Last week's New York Times article about the prevalence of E. coli in ground beef--and the failure of food companies to keep the pathogen out of the food system--has led experts to wonder: Is there any safe way to eat a hamburger?

Marion Nestle wrote last week about one solution to the problem of tainted meat, supported by the American Meat Institute: kill bacteria in beef using a process called irradiation.

Nestle's take on this strategy:

I view irradiation as a late stage techno-fix. It zaps dirty meat and lets this industry get away with producing dirty meat in the first place.

Nobody ever explained the problem with irradiation better than Carol Tucker Foreman, now at Consumers Federation of America: "sterilized poop is still poop."

Another solution, from the opposite end of the spectrum, was proposed on Larry King Live last night: stop eating ground beef altogether.

Bill Marler, a lawyer who represents victims of foodborne illness explains his decision to eliminate hamburgers from his diet:

What happens in hamburger is the E. coli bacteria is in the guts of cows. And during the slaughtering process, those guts are nicked or there's fecal material on the hides. It gets on the red meat...

And when you cook a steak, assuming that steak hasn't been penetrated, you can kill the bacteria that's on the outside of the meat. It's not on the inside of the meat. But when you ground that meat up, that E. coli is in there.

What do you think? Have fears about food safety caused you to cut back on your consumption of ground beef, or are you holding out for another solution?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/10/banish-the-burger/28301/