Okay. Beef tonsils.
Beef tongue is one of my all time favorite cuts of meat. But then this comes along: http://www.omaha.com/article/20091016... and it occurs to me that I have no idea of how to tell if my beef tongue has had the tonsils thoroughly removed or not.
I’m not too squeamish a person, but things on the BSE no-no list like tonsils and CNS tissue are deal-breakers for me. (Bleh...I’m even starting to reconsider my torrid love affair with headcheeses because of this tonsil non-removal issue...sad, sad, sad for me!)
So tell me, oh legions of people way smarter than I am: how do I tell if my beef tongue has had the tonsils thoroughly removed? What do they look like? (I couldn’t find any images for visual reference.) How do I removed them properly and safely if I do have tonsils on my beef tongue?
Thanks for the anatomy lesson.
The issue here is the lingual tonsil, which both cows and humans have. The tonsils people are more familiar with are the palatine tonsils on either side in the back of your throat.
The lingual tonsil is lymphoid tissue that occurs at the base of the tongue, largely on its upper surface. Bovine tonsillar tissue is considered to have some potential infectivity for BSE/Mad Cow, so processing guidelines (http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/meavia/man/ch11/annexr-1e.shtml) specify that the tongue should be cut in such a way as to exclude the lingual tonsil. Others have argued that this procedure, even if followed scrupulously all the time [hard to enforce, and their is obviously an incentive for processors to cheat] often leaves some tonsillar tissue behind (http://www.seac.gov.uk/statements/Bov...), hence poses some theoretical risk of BSE. The risk is likely small for many reasons (prevalence of the infection is quite low, concentration is low in the tonsil in infected animals, most of tonsil is removed in processing, etc. etc.).
Like many food safety questions these days, this boils down to a personal choice. Eating hamburger also has some theoretical risk of BSE--the processor might have let a brain, a few eyes, or a spinal cord or two fall into the grinder, and, unlike E. coli, fully cooking the hamburger doesn't eliminate the infectivity for BSE. My understanding is that preventing BSE contamination in the slaughterhouse is realtively easy compared to preventing E. coli contamination.
Thankfully, I don't adore tongue, so this particular choice is not one I have to agonize over. I do love my rare burgers though, and I manage my E. coli risk by being selective as to where I order them and where I buy my ground beef. The analogous choice for tongue-lovers would be to prepare it yourself and chose to cut off an extra couple of inches of its base for good measure.
Notwithstanding the current brouhaha over food-borne illnesses, I would take our current system over the system of 100 years ago any day of the week (safety-wise, anyway). We have to have some confidence in the food regulatory authorities and inspection systems. There are people much more knowledgable than you or I who have agonized over this issue and came up with regulations and procedures that minimize risk. Yes, the food regulators are influenced by the food processing industry, perhaps too much in fact. Even so, what results is at worst a greater tolerance of small/unquantifiable risks rather than wholesale peril of the food supply.
Personally, I favour a system in which educated consumers can choose to accept small risks in the name of eating pleasure (raw milk cheeses...yum!) rather than elimination of food-related risks. Clearly, it makes sense to eliminate risks that are extreme or those that can be eliminated at little or no cost or without compromising the quality of the end product.