Salmon and Beef: What's Safe to Eat?
Here's a look at the science behind the scares
The Salmon Scare continued...
What can we conclude from this? It's a decision each of us needs to evaluate
personally, of course. But for most healthy adults, the health benefits of
salmon far outweigh the much smaller and less-clear risk that the PCBs found in
it could cause cancer. (Children and pregnant or nursing women may be at
increased risk of exposure to contaminants and should check with their doctors
for advice on eating all kinds of fish.)
Let's put the issue into perspective. The leading cause of death in the U.S.
-- causing 950,000 deaths a year -- is cardiovascular disease. Eating two meals
per week of fatty fish, such as salmon, can reduce the risk of fatal heart
disease by 40%. The dangers of eating salmon, meanwhile, are unclear, largely
theoretical, and based on studies in animals. The risks would appear to be much
smaller than that of developing heart disease.
If you are concerned about PCBs, remove the skin and dark flesh from your
salmon, and cook it so that the fat drips off -- thus reducing PCBs by
How Safe Is Our Beef Supply?
Because we eat so much beef in the U.S., it's especially important that we
be confident of its safety. The CDC says that the risk of a consumer in this
country contracting the human form of mad cow disease is "extremely
small." In testimony presented to the Senate, CDC Director Julie Gerberding
said U.S. authorities had taken adequate steps to reduce the risk.
Studies have revealed that the agent responsible for mad cow infections is
not found in beef muscle or in milk. The disease is spread by proteins called
prions, which are found in the central nervous system tissue -- such as the
brain and spinal cord -- of cattle. Prions cannot be destroyed by cooking.
Only one cow infected with the disease has been found in the U.S. According
to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the central nervous system
material from that cow -- found in Washington State -- did not enter our food
supply. And the entire herd associated with that cow has been slaughtered and
Since that case, the government has banned so-called "downer" cattle
-- those that are unable to walk -- from being used as food for humans. And it
now prevents processors from using cattle brains and small intestines from
older cattle in human food. Still more regulations may be established to ensure
that our supply of beef remains safe.
Looking for an extra measure of food safety? When beef is ground, there is a
miniscule risk that nerve tissue will accidentally be included. But solid cuts
of boneless meat are prion-free. So if you're looking for that extra level of
safety, buy whole cuts of beef and ask the butcher to grind them for you.
American consumers should feel confident that the government is doing its
job to be sure our food supply is among the safest in the world. Be sure to do
your part as well. Once you get the food home from the market, practice safe
food handling -- from clean cutting boards to proper cooking temperatures -- to
keep your family safe.