HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


103 Years After "The Jungle" Was Published We Have Not Come Very Far

This article is deeply disturbing and certainly makes me think I will never eat a pre-formed burger ever again:


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I think that's a good policy in any case. Get your ground beef from someone who grinds it in-house.

    It's disgusting to think we have put these companies in charge of regulating themselves, and then are surprised that they aren't too diligent about it. Sure, the market takes care of it...after people get sick or die.

    1. I've been avoiding pre-formed patties for years for this very reason, and am on the verge of never buying ground meat either. I've found it's not that hard to grind at home.


      9 Replies
      1. re: MC Slim JB

        What do you use for a meat grinder. I tried a manual which was useless.

        1. re: StriperGuy

          Food processor. It's tricky not to overprocess, but I find I'm getting better with practice. And the equipment all gets sterilized in the dishwasher afterward.

          Good basic instructions here: http://www.ehow.com/how_2050012_grind...


          1. re: MC Slim JB

            The texture of food processed meat, even when done perfectly, is not what I seek. I really like ground for certain things.

          2. re: StriperGuy

            I have a KA stand mixer and bought the grinder attachment for about $50. The burgers are SO good, we don't eat them in restos anymore. You'll never go back.

            1. re: c oliver

              I have had a KA grinder for a couple of years. It spelled then end of buying pre-ground beef for me. I will no longer eat a burger that I haven't personally ground, it's just not worth the risk.

              1. re: c oliver

                I have the KA and the grinder attachment but, I'm embarrassed to admit this, I've not yet used the grinder and I've had it for months. I bought it because I will only order medium rare burgers at places where they grind their own and I trust the staff. I wanted to be able to make my own burgers that I know are safe.

                Any advice for a grinding novice? Best cuts/parts of meat to use? For burgers? For pork? Chicken? Turkey?

                1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                  IMO the ideal cut for hamburgers is the seven-bone chuck roast. It tends to run about 20% fat, which is just right, and the flavor is fantastic.

                  It's bonehead simple - just cut the meat into chunks or strips that will fit easily in the feed tube, chill them well, and run them through. Keep the mixer at low speed. I use the coarse plate and only grind once. If you get some spatter from the end, a piece of plastic wrap will contain it.

                  Don't handle the meat any more than is absolutely necessary to form patties. It helps if you wet your hands with cold water. Add salt and pepper to taste, pop the patty on a hot pan or grill, and in a few minutes you'll have a better burger than can be found in any restaurant.

                  If you want to go upscale, get a chunk of tenderloin and run it through the grinder. Mix it with raw egg yolk, dijon mustard, anchovies, capers, and shallots. Voila, steak tartare.

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Oh, honeybunny, this is the first thing I'm having when we get home. Rare with some sharp Cheddar and maybe some grilled onions. Ooooo weeeeee.

            2. I have never understood the preground beef sold commonly now in chubs, let alone the preformed burgers. Give me fresh ground, from a small butcher..or better yet, I'll grind my own at home.

              Just how many cows end up in one burger of pre-ground beef anyways? Any guesses? Or is it like Caesar's last breath?

              1. I'm not usually one to buy into scaremongering articles, but this one was a real eye opener and served to reinforce what I had already been told by people I know in the industry and who have worked in plants like the ones reported on. Be best way to know what you're getting in your hamburger meat is to do what I do... I grind or chop my own. I use either a KitchenAid with the grinder attachment or the good ol' Cuisinart processor. I'm starting to prefer the latter for many dishes, since chopping the meat rather gives a more interesting texture than when extruding it through the grinder blade and plate.

                3 Replies
                1. re: The Professor

                  Ditto on the scaremongering articles, but the descriptions, treating fatty bits with ammonia, etc. were unspeakable, and right out of The Jungle. Nevermind that Cargill, the main packer in the article, and Archer Daniels Midland have both, repeatedly proven themselves to be evil, unethical food monsters.

                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    Living a severe allergy to corn & all its derivatives, I had to learn a lot about food processing because, as this article shows, not everything ends up on the label. Its amazing what can slip by as a 'processing aid' under Codex rules. That ground beef falls under USDA and not FDA labeling, makes things even worse.

                    Being allergic to corn & derivatives puts Archer Daniels Midland at the bottom of companies I trust.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Occasionally it happens on the local level...some years ago there was a northeastern supermarket chain that was busted for selling chicken that was soaked in a weak bleach wash to try and get away with selling it despite the fact that it was clearly going 'over the hill'. This 'treatment' was evidently a matter of company policy! Sometimes the press does overdo it, but stories like this one and the aforementioned NY Times story can really make one wonder sometimes.

                  2. We now have a greater disparity of wealth than the Guilded Age when The Jungle was written.
                    Thank you Ronald Regan (who first prohibited FDA meat inspectors from inspecting meat)

                      1. Another reason why Minnesota's Department of Heath is a major asset to my home state. As reported earlier by the NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/hea... had it not been for the Minnesota Department of Health many more might have died before the peanut-salmonella outbreak was caught.

                        1. I certainly couldn't agree more that much about the food industry is deeply disturbing. In certain regards, we have regressed over the last 103 years. For instance, most food consumed in suburban and rural areas at that point was still being produced locally, by small family farms and independent fishermen, using more natural methods.
                          That being said, on the whole, the progress we have made since The Jungle was published is staggering. If you have not read it, I highly recommend doing so. To begin with, while food plays a major role in the novel's plot, Sinclair's intent is to send a strongly Socialist message. He went to his grave deeply disappointed that, for all the notoriety The Jungle achieved, his core, anti-wage slavery message had been wholly ignored, as the rich had hijacked the text for the purpose of improving their dinners.
                          Whether or not we have come very far in regard to the social progress Sinclair dedicated his life to - and if Sinclair's portrayal is accurate, even modern sweatshops are a giant leap forward - both food quality in America's cities and the standards of the meatpacking industry have come so far in the last century that it is difficult even to draw a comparison. Sure, Stephanie Smith's story is horrible, and there are still serious issues with ground beef. But the meat packing world of The Jungle was one where eating even well done pork chops meant taking the chance of contracting tuberculosis.
                          So sure, the meat industry is still deeply corrupt, and our inspection process does let tainted meat slip through the cracks, but let's not get carried away. With regard to food safety, there is almost nothing contained in The Jungle that is still applicable today.

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: danieljdwyer

                            Did you read the NY Times article?

                            "The hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps... the final source was a supplier that turns fatty trimmings into what it calls 'fine lean textured beef' it bought meat that averages between 50 percent and 70 percent fat, including 'any small pieces of fat derived from the normal breakdown of the beef carcass.' It warms the trimmings, removes the fat in a centrifuge and treats the remaining product with ammonia...

                            With seven million pounds produced each week, the company’s product is widely used in hamburger meat sold by grocers and fast-food restaurants and served in the federal school lunch program."

                            If that is not straight out of The Jungle I don't know what is.

                            Also, recent news about migrant farm workers in the U.S., held essentially captive, their pay used to pay off "debts" incurred. not allowed to urinate, rest, or given sufficient water on hundred degree days... And certainly there is actual wage slavery in Asia today. Not sure we have come quite so far.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              Yes, I read the article. However, as you note, it is fairly safe to buy whole cuts of beef and grind your own today. This was simply not safe a century ago; any meat that passed through a packing plant was potentially deadly. Urban residents today can fairly easily reduce their risks of eating tainted meat to almost zero. This simply was not possible for the inhabitants of Sinclair's world.
                              Straight out of The Jungle would be more like, "One man's arm was torn off and ground up with the beef, while a young girl, dying of tuberculosis, coughed up blood onto the bacon she was packaging."
                              Additionally, E. coli is a mild illness compared to those which Sinclair raised concerns about. It is also typically destroyed by cooking a piece of meat to well done. Many of the illnesses commonly contracted through ordinary food consumption a century ago (cholera, tuberculosis, dysentery) are not eliminated through cooking as simply as E. coli. It was also common practice a century ago to package spoiled meat. Even if one can cook out all the bacteria from a spoiled piece of meat, it is still toxic, and a century ago food poisoning would likely have meant death. Meat treated with ammonia would have been a giant leap forward for the urban poor of the early 20th century (though I agree completely that it is a horrific practice).
                              And yes, of course there is still wage slavery in the United States. It is even fully legal in some jurisdictions - most people think "Made in the USA" on the label means a t-shirt was produced under humane conditions, but chances are it was made in a sweat shop in the Northern Mariana Islands. The major difference, which I think constitutes an enormous improvement, is that wage slavery is now the exception. A century ago, nearly all of our urban poor, including children, were wage slaves. On the job accidents leading to death or permanent disability - estimates for the numbers of which range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands per year - were common and involved no compensation for the victim or the victim's family.
                              More to the point, food related illness was one of the most common causes of death among inhabitants of cities at the time Sinclair was writing. Today, food related illness is fairly rare in the United States, and death caused by such is extremely rare. To me, that constitutes having come very far, even if we still have a ways to go.

                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                Wow, VERY thoughtful and informed reply. Though I don't remember anything quite that extreme in The Jungle, your points are well taken and provide a meaningful and correct perspective.

                                Thank you.

                                1. re: danieljdwyer

                                  Thanks for a very well-written piece.

                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                    Perhaps we don't have workers coughing up blood onto meat these days, so that is progress. The point for me is: why can't we do better in 2009 when testing and other changes are straightforward and would reduce the risk. And when some of the strains of e coli are so dangerous. Apparently, the strain of e coli that harmed the young woman in the NY Times story was unknown before 1982 and is prevalent in the guts of cattle in large feedlots, not pasture fed animals. So that is a way that changes in the industry are making the meat supply less safe.

                                    Yes, I know how to protect myself. I can buy whole cuts of meat and grind it myself. Or go to small processors who are not raising meat in large feedlots and who I trust. I can afford to do that. What about the harried parents buying cheap ground beef at the local grocery store. Should their kids be subjected to these risks?

                                    (Here's one cite to an article about the prevalence of the O157:H7 strain of e coli in large feedlot animals:

                                    1. re: karykat

                                      Safer meat will mean more expensive meat. That might mean we eat less meat and, hopefully, more vegetables. It's a long, slow road, but one I think we have to travel.

                                      I know the reality is much more complex.

                                      1. re: karykat

                                        Believe me, no one wants to see a better system of agriculture in this country more than I do.
                                        But, I wouldn't call it straightforward. The problems with our food industry are institutional, and so intertwined that it would take a complete revision of the way we produce food to effect real change in any single area. We're no longer a nation comfortable with that kind of large scale revolution, though I do have hope that we are again growing towards that. We do have the freedom and abundance of information on our side. But, for the present, people just aren't going to vote for politicians that want to shake up one of our largest and oldest industries. Can you imagine the attack ads against such a candidate? "[Candidate X] wants to take away your dollar cheeseburgers and five dollar foot longs!"
                                        As to why we, in 2009, aren't better than this yet, well, the passage of time and advances in science and technology don't always add up to real progress. When they do, they very rarely pay immediate dividends. The Industrial Revolution represents one of humanity's greatest technological leaps forward, but it also represents an absolute low point in the quality of our food supply. We'll get there eventually, and, as has always been the case with real progress in history, it will be the spread of accurate information on the matter that gets us there.

                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                          This sounds like a lot of apologies for the status quo. You can either accept the status quo or work for something better. And saying, "It just isn't possible," isn't the way to do that.

                                          Is it acceptable that the large mega-slaughterhouses get to dictate that there won't be any testing of their products? We need more than "accurate information." We need a Department of Agriculture with the commitment and backbone to require some basic safety, or a committed FDA to do that.

                                          The problem is not the lack of information. It is the need to overcome the economic and political barriers to some basic safety.

                                          1. re: karykat

                                            I'm not apologizing for anyone, and I certainly don't accept the status quo, nor did I say anything remotely resembling, "It just isn't possible." But you can't solve a problem if you can't explain why it exists in the first place. The lack of an FDA or DoA addressing these issues is the problem itself, not the reason for the problem. We don't have organizations in place to get these things done because the average American doesn't want them done. You can't overcome the political barriers without getting support behind the movement, and you can't get that without disseminating accurate information to the public. People who are completely ignorant that a problem exists are never going to vote for a politician that wants to fix that problem.

                                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                                              One simple law would change it. The grinders must test meat from suppliers - which they are happy and willing to do except that the suppliers would cut them off. If every grinder has to test, then no supplier would be able to cartel block a grinder. The FDA doesn't even have to do any testing, just make sure grinders are *allowed* to test, and that they follow through.

                                              1. re: royaljester

                                                More testing is generally viewed as one small part of a larger solution by groups advocating for a reform of the nation's food supply, and there is general agreement that no amount of testing comes close to being a comprehensive solution. Testing simply can't catch every single infected bit of meat, and one infected bit of meat in the grinder can taint the whole batch.
                                                Some of the advocacy groups even hold that more testing will do more harm than good, as the increase it will cause in the cost of ground beef will cause a backlash in the public, meaning the public will not be open to listening to the reform messages these groups consider more important. They view the solution as reforming the meat production and slaughter practices. If we produce healthy meat, we eat healthy meat. If we produce infected meat, no amount of testing is going to keep that infected meat from ending up on someone's plate.
                                                Given that most large outbreaks of E. coli are traced back to vegetables, not to ground beef, testing looks even less like an adequate solution. Right now, we're testing a very small percentage of ground beef, and this is maxing out the capacity of our laboratories. If we go to comprehensive testing of every food product large outbreaks of E. coli have been linked to, the backlog at laboratories will be weeks long, and you can kiss fresh vegetables goodbye.
                                                Beyond that, this is corporate America we're talking about. Corners are going to be cut in testing, reducing its efficacy even further. And there really is nothing to for them to fear in terms of consequences even with the passage of more robust testing regulations. They're already liable for the safety of their products, and a new law will not make them more liable. If they get caught with tainted meat, the consequences will be exactly the same as they are now. They'll have no incentive not to cut corners.
                                                No amount of regulation is going to make factory farming safe, and simply safer just isn't good enough. The only viable solution is to end corporate control of the nation's food supply. If people stop buying factory farmed crap, write to their congressmen, inform their friends that this is an enormous problem, and donate a few hours of their time every now and then to a local food reform advocacy group, then substantive food reform can happen.

                                                1. re: royaljester

                                                  Unless you include a rule as to size of grinder---ie $ volume or poundage per year, that doesn't solve your problem, it just puts the little guys out of
                                                  business because they grind in small lots but can't afford to test every lot.
                                                  My local butcher can't afford to test every time he grinds nor can the small producer I buy from at my farmer's market. But unfortunately, the only person who can afford to influence any legislation is going to be ADM and crew.
                                                  Well meaning poorly crafted bills can cause more trouble than they solve.

                                                2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                  The underlying reasons have been identified: lack of testing due to industry pressure and factory farming.

                                                  The problem is not that the average American doesn't want changes. The problem is the Big Ag does not want changes and they have the political muscle to impose their will. That is what needs to be overcome.

                                          2. re: danieljdwyer

                                            According to Howard Zinn, more soldiers died from bad meat in the Spanish American War than from war wounds.

                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                              I'm a big fan of Zinn's work. I got the chance to go to a couple anti-war lectures he gave at BU when I was an undergrad at another school in Boston, and actually got him to give me a three minute interview after one of them. I was writing a term paper on Slaughterhouse Five, and he had written a lengthy essay on the Dresden firebombings that was pretty key to my argument.
                                              Where does he discuss meat in the Spanish American War? I'd love to read it.

                                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                I gave away all My copies of A People's History, but it was just a small line about the SA War. I'll see if I can dig up a copy from school. Our eldest son carried on an email relationship w/ both Zinn & Chomsky. His senior year in HS he took the bus to Boston and both men were gracious enough to meet w/ him. I used APHist as an alt text in an Honors US Hist class.
                                                I'm using an excerpt of The Jungle in a US Hist. course and this Chowhound thread. How timely.

                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                  I've got a copy on my bookshelf at my parents' house. Looks like I'll have to dust it off and give it another read.
                                                  I wonder if there is any connection between TR's service in Cuba, and his standing up to the meatpacking industry as President.

                                      2. I can't remember the last time I ate a pre formed burger - I've been leery of them for years, but not for any reason I could put my finger one. I found the article disturbing but not surprising, given the increasing information out there over the past half dozen years about our nation's food supply. I don't eat fast food burgers, and there are only a handful of restaurants in my hometown where I will order a burger (because I am comfortable with their sourcing). When I have a burger at home, I buy a large piece of chuck (not stew meat that has already been cubed), and have my butcher grind it. I recommend the coarse or chili grind, as I think the texture is much better than the finer grind that you usually see in ground beef.

                                        1. It's sad because based on other articles it sounds like the meat industry is deadlocked on how to improve. The grinders effectively can't inspect their sources without losing suppliers. The fact is, a single positive test will shut down the entire supplier so they'd rather have the grinder find it in the final mix and shut down just the grinder at best. Nobody is able to budge over this issue, unless the government steps in and says you have to test the supply.

                                          In any case, it's not like ground meat is that expensive to begin with. People need to buy more ground beef from single cuts rather than the "hot dog" mixture where all the scraps are fed in. But I guess someone has to buy that ammonia treated fat!

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: royaljester

                                            Couldn't we just make soap out of it?

                                            1. re: StriperGuy

                                              Sure, but it wouldn't be as profitable as feeding it to people. Making soap would require a separate plant, whereas a slaughterhouse already makes deliveries of meat so why not toss in some packages of exterior fat.

                                            2. re: royaljester

                                              And that's the crux of the problem- the government isn't doing its job. "Dr. Kenneth Petersen, an assistant administrator with the department’s [USDA] Food Safety and Inspection Service, said that the department could mandate testing, but that it needed to consider the impact on companies as well as consumers. “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health,” Dr. Petersen said." ....

                                              I naively thought the the companies could look after their own profits and the USDA was supposed to monitor food safety. I would be ashamed if I were him for saying that. It's unfortunate that some business owners place profits over food safety and ethics. The USDA needs to forget about these big lobbyists and focus on maintaining food safety. Period. There seem to be a lot of instances where inspectors note serious problems- and yet do nothing- merely issue a written recommendation. Why not be aggressive about food safety???

                                              1. re: QSheba

                                                Meat would simply cost several cents more. In Europe and Japan it is *more* expensive *not* to test. In the US it should be too.

                                                When we brush our teeth, we don't consider how much money we've lost in the time we spent - brushing your teeth is cost effective. The problem with slaughterhouses is they actually pass the cost onto the consumer - in death and illness. If they actually had to pay they'd think twice, but currently it's often untraceable because of the lack of supplier testing. That's their out.

                                                1. re: QSheba

                                                  The US government (and local politicians) is NOT going to "forget" about lobbyists any time soon. I don't know how to work around that fact but I think it's important to not be naive. They're here to stay in one form or another.

                                                  1. re: QSheba

                                                    It is not really an issue of the USDA giving in to lobbyists. In fact, the problem is that the mission of the USDA includes two contradictory roles: it is responsible for the safety of produce, meat, and dairy, but its mission is also to promote the interests of the country's agriculture industries. Therefore, it is explicitly charged with promoting the welfare of companies that produce meat. For this reason, it should not be involved in food safety policy and inspection, I believe. Those duties should be given to the FDA or a newly created food-safety agency.

                                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                      I agree that "giving" it to the FDA would be better than it is now. BUT I DO believe it's highly political and unlikely to change unless, God forbid, we have a major catastrophe with hundreds dead.

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Actually, I would prefer to see a new agency take control of food-safety policy from both the USDA and FDA, with an emphasis on accountability, testing, and prevention, because the FDA has plenty of problems of its own. But yes, easier said than done, and absolutely politics has a huge role (as it does for everything to do with agriculture regulation and allocation in the US).

                                                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                          All who know me well have heard me wax (in)eloquently about when I'm "Czarina of the Universe" with ultimate power how wonderful life will be :) Things like this need my magic wand. Short of that (serious now) I think it's a hard, maybe even impossible, battle. It pains me.

                                                2. I read the Times article with shock and disbelief. Being in the food business, I know that the packing houses utilize *every last bit* of every slaughtered animal. I *didn't know,* however, about the lax inspection practices.

                                                  I think it's a darned shame that the kind of people who'll buy this pre-ground beef "product" are usually people who can't afford to buy better. The financially unfortunate are always getting the short end of the stick - with potentially deadly outcomes, in this case.

                                                  It occurred to me that I've probably eaten such a product in a corporate cafeteria or cheap luncheonette somewhere. Thank God the health departments force places like this to cook their burgers medium-well. My taste for rare meat coulda gotten me in a lot of trouble otherwise.

                                                  1. Kudos to Costco for being a relatively bright spot in that whole dismal story - a worldwide company, certainly large enough to be able to afford the occasional financial hit from a victim lawsuit, chose of its own accord to test. Although they can't be sure of catching every tainted shipment, SOME testing is better than none. If the big name grinders got together and decided to do as Costco does, their suppliers would be compelled to be more accountable, because they would have no market for untested trimmings.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: greygarious

                                                      I'll second the kudos to Costco. I was at Sam's Club this afternoon and saw their chub and large packs of ground meat and just kind of shuddered. Never again.

                                                      1. re: greygarious

                                                        The good thing about Costco is they butcher most of their meat on-site. You can even watch them at work.

                                                      2. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (one of the nation's top food safety advocacy groups) recently issued this guide to the ten riskiest foods:
                                                        Here is the link to the accompanying article:
                                                        The list, in descending order, is: leafy greens, eggs, tuna, oysters, potatoes, cheese, ice cream, tomatoes, sprouts, and berries. Notice that ground beef does not crack the top ten, nor do recent outbreak culprits like peanuts or peanut butter.
                                                        CSPI is one of the loudest voices in support of the Food Safety Enhancement Act, which advocacy groups typically view as an important first step. On the recommendation of groups like CSPI, the act does not call for further testing. It calls for an increase in food safety protocols. Requiring safer food sources will be a whole lot more meaningful than hoping a safety net catches the dangerous ones.

                                                        16 Replies
                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                          Saw that article myself. Ironic that leafy greens will get you in trouble.

                                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                                            It's not the leafy greens. It's the deplorable working conditions of the Hispanics that harvest. It is fecal related.

                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                              I understood that implicitly. Not necessarily the workers exclusively, but contamination also in the irrigation water, water used for washing, etc. It just happens that leafy greens are a very good vessel for holding on to contaminated water, whatever the source.

                                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                                There was cholera found on the veggies at the open air market a mile from our house in Bolivia. That's Scary! We sterilized all fruits & Veggies 3 times. There was a hospital w/ a big banner over the entrance: CHOLERA CLINIC. We are blessed.

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    A hospital detergent, bleach, fresh water, air dry. Strawberries are especially susceptible. Enjoy Spring. Leaves are turning here.

                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                      So they didn' take on the taste of the soap or bleach? Good to know. Got two inches of snow at home the other night. I'm ready for that.

                                                          2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                            The article lists the top 10 riskiest FDA-regulated foods. The FDA does not regulate meat or poultry, so this is not particularly reassuring.

                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                              Good catch, kind of. The FDA does not have the authority to regulate labeling of meat and poultry products, but meat and poultry are not specifically excluded from its domain in any other regard. The Food Safety Enhancement Act does include granting the FDA further power to inspect meat and poultry packaging facilities.
                                                              The statistics used to compile this top ten list might not be considering ground beef related illness, but it would not crack the top ten even if it had been included. There are an average of 25,000 reported cases of E.coli annually in the US. In an average year; well under 1% of these are linked to ground beef. The highest number ever recorded in a single year was 700, in 1994. The only other two statistically significant illnesses linked to ground beef are salmonella and staph. There has yet to a be a major staph outbreak linked to ground beef, and 2009 so far has had the highest number (by more than double) of cases of salmonella linked to ground beef with 388 reported cases. These figures simply don't come close to the numbers associated with CSPI's top ten.
                                                              Also, this wasn't meant to be reassuring. Quite the opposite. The point is that further laboratory testing of ground beef isn't going to solve our food safety issues. Food safety is a big problem, requiring a big solution.

                                                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                DD, you astute academician and fellow bean eater, research the relationship between the Ray Gun administration and the demise of meat and poultry inspections. Very interesting stuff.

                                                                1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                  It seems likely that many cases of e coli infections are never reported.

                                                                  And, the bigger point is: why should there be this many cases when testing the large producers and processors would be relatively inexpensive and would make food safer.

                                                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                    Daniel -

                                                                    Your statement that "[t]here are an average of 25,000 reported cases of E.coli annually in the US. In an average year; well under 1% of these are linked to ground beef" intrigues me. It appears to be inconsistent with some of the more hysterical information being bandied about. Do you have a source for those numbers?


                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                      Sorry, this is a lame answer, but I am not sure where I got the numbers I used to calculate the percentages. I didn't save my sources, and, in the limited free time I've had today, have not been able to replicate last month's searches. I haven't found any contradictory data either (except a CDC report which uses estimates of underreporting to arrive at a figure of 100,000 illnesses caused by e. coli annually - though one can safely assume that the unreported cases are not more likely to be caused by ground beef than the reported cases). I do see the average annual range given at 25,000 to 27,000 at a number of the top search results, but not from any website I'd rely on. The numbers I was using last month did come from organizations I trust. I can't seem to find any information breaking down the annual totals by source of infection. Seemingly, no matter how I word my search, the results are dominated by articles on the recent outbreak.
                                                                      The CDC e. coli site (http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/) has a listing of all recent outbreaks, the majority of which are not linked to ground beef. They do also note, however, that current estimates hold that only about 20% of e. coli illnesses are part of an outbreak. The other 80% are very difficult to link to a specific cause, and often are not food related. One of the sources I found last month was a list of every reported outbreak of e. coli over the last two decades. I could have sworn this was on the CDC site, but I can't find it there now.
                                                                      Like I said, lame answer, but if I have more time tomorrow I'll give it another shot.

                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                        More digging and this is all I could find: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?...
                                                                        It's an old report, so I'm not sure how meaningful the data is anymore. The numbers of total infections they give are incredibly low compared to the CDC's data. But I think it reveals a few important things. First off, the percentage of infections caused by ground beef in any of the years given is much higher than I previously claimed.
                                                                        Whether 12 year old data that appears incomplete invalidates what I found last month is debatable, but, for the sake of ease, I'll concede that my old data was incorrect. However, we can see from the data in this report that the percentage of e. coli infections caused by ground beef fairly steadily decreased since 1993.
                                                                        From 1982 to 1992 ground beef accounted for 43.6% of cases reported to the CDC. This jumps up sharply in 1993 (the year of the jack in the box e. coli crisis) 78.6%. After this (when greater oversight of meat packing began) there is a drop to 25% in 1994, and 21.5% in 1995.
                                                                        I have seen in a large number of places the vague assertion that, since 1993, in each year, the percentage of e. coli infections linked to ground beef has decreased, while the overall number of infections has remained fairly steady. We have substantially improved the safety of our ground beef supply since national concern was raised about this 16 years ago, but we've done nothing at all about the other way sin which industrial beef production causes e. coli infections. We've grown more reliant on feed lot cattle, creating more infected runoff. A lot of these infections are coming from the water supply and from foods that are commonly eaten raw. It is difficult or impossible for a consumer to guard against these problems, while not buying crappy ground beef, or cooking the hell out of it if you insist on buying it, is fairly easy.
                                                                        To me, this all points to the industrialization of the food supply, not the lack of testing, as the actual issue to be solved, and focusing on testing is only going to draw resources away from that solution. Additionally, e. coli only about 1-3% of food related illness, depending whose figures you use. There are much bigger issues, like salmonella, to worry about. Fortunately, many of these other sources of food related illness also have their genesis in, or are exacerbated by, industrialized food production. When many issues all have one root, treating the root of any of those issues kills many birds with one stone.
                                                                        If I ever get stabbed, I hope to God the doctor treats the stab wound before he worries about testing it for sepsis and staph.

                                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                          Thanks for doing that digging. I tried to make sense of the CDC's reports of confirmed cases, their estimates of total cases, their comments regarding the percentage of cases that are part of documented outbreaks, and the information available about those outbreaks, and came up with results that were absolutely unintelligible. Surely somebody has reviewed and summarized the primary materials, but I couldn't find it.

                                                                          As to the reduction in e. coli infection from ground beef over the last 15 years or so, I'm not convinced that we've cleaned up the supply of industrial ground beef so much as we've convinced people to cook it thoroughly. The decline in e. coli infections may be attributable less to the reduction of fecal matter in ground beef we consume than to the increased incidence of sterile filthburgers.

                                                                          And I absolutely agree that industrial agriculture is contributing to the problem. It's a bad idea to have manure lagoons anywhere near, say, fields of lettuce. But industrialization of the food supply and commodification of meat lets the local grocery store put out a weekly flier advertising $0.69/lb chicken and $0.99/lb hamburger. And people like that.

                                                                          As far as incidence of various food-borne diseases goes, here's a CDC study that puts e. coli well under 1% of total infections: