The Essential Summer BBQ Accessory
Donley says that about half the cattle that come in for slaughter have some
exposure to E. coli, and that ground meat samples tested by the federal
government are turning up higher amounts of bacteria than before -- although
this may be because of better testing.
"The slaughterhouse market is relatively unchanged since Sinclair Lewis
wrote The Jungle," says Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who has
represented victims of some of the most notorious food poisoning cases of the
last decade, including the Jack in the Box and Odwalla cases. He holds this
opinion despite the fact that some plants have adopted new Hazard Analysis
Critical Control Point (HACCP) quality-control procedures to keep contamination
"The concept is great," Marler says. "You look at those
particular areas with the potential for contamination and focus on it and deal
with it. In reality, it still takes a commitment by the company." Still, he
adds, "I think you have got to have oversight in addition to HACCP. You
can't let your own industry regulate itself."
But others say the U.S. food supply has gotten safer. "I think
we've come a long way, in part because of educational initiatives, educating
the public, and steps the government has taken," says Kathleen Zellman, RD,
a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "We're safer than we
were a year ago; we're safer than we were five years ago. ... The federal
government is doing the job to keep the food supply safe."
The nation's slaughterhouses have done a good job driving down levels of
salmonella, one food safety expert says, but there isn't enough evidence to
show the same is true for E. coli.
Mike Doyle, PhD, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food
Safety and Quality Enhancement, in Griffin, says some facilities are now
steam-cleaning carcasses during processing to help get rid of contamination,
but that cows almost invariably come into the plant dirty. "The hooker is,
we're not going to be eliminating everything," he says.
And that's where the consumer comes in. Proper cooking is of key importance,
but it's not the only thing. Raw meat should be handled very carefully, all the
way from the grocery story to the plate. "One of the problems we have when
you're talking about grilling is, consumers will cook the hamburger well and
then put it back on the plate with the [raw] contaminated juices," Doyle