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Salmon and Beef: What's Safe to Eat?

Here's a look at the science behind the scares

How Safe Is Our Beef Supply? continued...

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 disposed of.

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.

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