The Latest Techno-Fix to Deal With Contaminated Meat Products

By Marion Nestle

Food Production Daily reports that hitting meat with electrical current reduces toxic E. coli on the surface, but surface bacteria isn't a problem.

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Bacterial contamination of meat is an ongoing problem and everyone wishes for an easy fix -- one that does not require meat producers and packers to prevent contamination.

Irradiation works, but raises feasibility and other concerns.

How about electrocution?

Food Production Daily reports that hitting meat with electrical current reduces toxic E. coli O157:H7 on meat surfaces by two log units.

The research report says researchers inoculated meat with the bacteria and then applied electrical current. But by inoculation they must mean just on the surface, because they only counted surface bacteria.

Surface bacteria, alas, are not the problem. Searing meat effectively kills surface bacteria. Bacteria in the interior (of hamburger, for example) survive unless the meat is well cooked.

And two log units is unlikely to be good enough for bacteria that cause harm at low doses, as this kind does. The FDA requires a five-log reduction for fresh juices, for example.

I wish researchers would apply their talents to figuring out how to keep toxic bacteria from getting into and onto animals in the first place. Then we wouldn't have to worry about designing techno-fixes to deal with contaminated meat.

Image: Volodymyr Krasyuk/Shutterstock.

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/01/the-latest-techno-fix-to-deal-with-contaminated-meat-products/251503/