12 Jun E. coli O157- from cattle feces to ground beef – always suspect it
E. coli O157 is in the news again! Today reports of possible contamination of ground beef processed in April in California and sold in 11 western states. Most likely the product has been consumed by now but might still be frozen and available for consumption. Of course, you should check the dates and numbers on any ground beef you have in your freezer and dispose of it if the numbers match. Actually, E. coli O157 can be killed by cooking to temperatures of greater than 160˚F and fully cooking but why risk the infection with thawing and cooking? Recalls should protect us from fast food restaurants using frozen ground beef patties.
Steaks, roasts or other cuts of beef aren’t a problem with E. coli O157:H7. The news usually refers to this infection risk “caused by E. coli”. When, in fact, it is a different nanobug: E. coli O157:H7 is a dangerous brother of E. coli that is normally found in our “gut” and helps us digest our food, and is also normally found in the gut and feces of animals. It has been modified in cattle over time as they have been fed low doses of antibiotics in their food. I’m sure you can imagine how beef can become contaminated as the animal is slaughtered. Even if the surfaces of a solid piece of beef are contaminated, the searing and cooking will kill the nanobugs. However, the grinding of beef in processing can distribute the contamination throughout. Then if the burger is not heated throughout to 160˚F – the E. coli O157:H7 grows nicely in the center and causes a mild to severe G.I. illness in adults but can cause serious illness with kidney failure.
So what’s a mother to do? Cook beef patties to 160˚F throughout and fully cook loose ground beef. Be aware of recalls and identified outbreaks. Report symptoms that seem to be associated with indigestion of ground beef 12-24 hours before. Order/ensure fully cooked burgers at restaurants.
Cattle feces is the same source of E. coli O157:H7 contamination of vegetables like spinach and lettuce. Contamination occurs in fields with run off of rain water from feed lots. These vegetables eaten raw – do not expose the nanobugs to the high temperatures needed to kill them. And even triple washing can’t remove contaminated from these leafy vegetables.
So what’s a mother to do?? Certainly, don’t stop serving your family fresh fruits and vegetables! Some experts warn that “washing” in a contaminated sink and/or with contaminated water might be counter productive and serving the triple-washed, bagged lettuce/spinach directly is more appropriate.