No need to avoid ground beef if you buy local
By Sara Davis on June 29, 2009
The latest ground beef recall has prompted me to stop unpacking moving boxes long enough to post. Obama Foodarama is urging people to "avoid
beef like the plague", pointing out that the recall is voluntary, so there
is no guarantee that the recalled beef is actually being pulled from the
shelves. On top of that, of course, is the issue of traceability and
identifying exactly where all the contaminated beef ended up. The identifying
establishment ID and processing time stamp do not usually appear on the final
consumer package in ground beef, and certainly not in any cooked products.
The inside of a muscle or cut of beef is relatively sterile. It's only the
surface that typically harbors bacteria. Ground beef is particulalry
susceptible to food safety issues and recalls for a couple of reasons. In
ground beef, any bacteria on the surface of whatever is being ground gets
thoroughly mixed in during the grinding process. Part of what goes into ground
beef tends to be scraps and trimmings, which have lots of surface area and have
been handled more than say, a rump roast. In addition, most ground beef is
ground in batches containing meat or trimmings from a large number of cows.
More cows = more chance that one of them will be contaminated.
And to add a final couple risk factors: Ground beef is often not ground at
the site where the animals are slaughtered, but at a secondary processing plant,
further obfuscating the trail to the source. Even in the few grocery stores
that grind their own ground beef, it is a common practice to grind cuts that are
nearing their "use by" date.
BUT, rather than go without your hamburger on the 4th of July, you can
minimize your risk by purchasing ground beef through local producers. Our own
Wild Type Ranch ground beef, for instance, is ground from a single animal and is packaged and frozen within a
short time of its being cut from the side of beef. When we sell a package of
ground beef, we know which animal it came from, when it was processed (and can
usually tell you its name and pedigree, if you ask). This is fairly typical
among the producers you meet at the local farmer's market, or through Local Harvest or Eat Wild.
Ground beef produced like we do ours does not have that kind of icky smell
(reminds me of sour feet). I was so sensitive to that smell after growing up on
home-grown beef that I became a vegetarian while I was away at college! And the
flavor is as different from grocery store ground beef
as a homegrown tomato is from a grocery store tomato.
If you can't get to the farmer's market, the next best alternative is to
purchase roasts (chuck, rump, etc) and grind them yourself using a grinder
attachment on your mixer.
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