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Dec 31, 2009 07:18 PM

is organic ground beef safe from ecoli?

I need some help from others who know a thing or two about beef. lately, I've been reading how ground beef from large factories like Cargill is not safe from ecoli. But what about organic beef that I buy from Whole Foods? I'm not a huge beef eater so I'm sort of new to the whole beef thing. I've been making meat sauce for my toddler who happens to be a super picky eater but has a soft spot for meat sauce. I'm getting paranoid.

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  1. I don't see why organic ground beef should be any lower risk for E coli than non-organic, but given the extremely low risk, why should you be paranoid? The likelihood that your toddler will get hit by lightning is far higher, provided you properly cook the beef. Do you worry about that?

      1. The term organic beef relates to the steer, not the processing facility

        1. My understanding (mostly from reading a lot of Michael Pollan) is that corn-fed cows (ie most beef raised in the US) have a much higher instance of e coli than grass-fed ones. Cows did not evolve to eat a diet of corn, so their stomachs can't handle it well, and the digestive systems of corn-fed cows become much more susceptible to many strains of e. coli than grass-fed ones. The bacteria then end up in their wastes, which in large feedlots often stays right where they drop it, gets stepped in, splashed up onto their hide, etc (and we're not talking nice little cow patties on a corn diet). If a cow has manure on its hide when it's slaughtered, it's possible (and not unlikely, depending on the vigilance of the processing plant) that some of that manure, and the e coli in it, will get on the meat, where various sanitary procedures usually, but not always, kill it, as we've seen from a lot of recent news items. Moral of the story: I only eat grass-fed beef. (Not that it's 100% safe either, nothing is, but certainly better.) Check with Whole Foods as to whether their beef is grass- or corn-finished if you're worried. (From what I understand, organic can be either, but that could be wrong.)

          9 Replies
          1. re: Emmmily

            Good point! I believe, although I could be wrong, that grass-fed beef has quite a distinctly different flavour than corn fed beef. You may want to look into this further - your toddler may not like grass-fed, which I've heard can be quite strong in taste.

            1. re: vorpal

              my toddler only eats grass fed and seems to like it. i haven't fed him any other. as far as if i'm worried if he'll get hit by lightning, no, but i worry about what gets put in his body. sounds like you don't have kids or maybe you're just a relaxed parent. once you have a child who is super underweight and is a picky eater who also happens to be allergic to quite a lot of foods it becomes a perfect storm for a paranoid parent. then add all these articles about ecoli, it's enough to make my son a vegan. but then again every time i've had food poisoning, i suspect it's been from lettuce or some leafy greens so there goes that idea. i do cook the crap out of the meat (2 hrs simmer in the sauce) so i suppose we're ok. I reached out to chowhound b/c as i mentioned i'm not a huge meat eater and not familiar with cooking it so much. thanks for the input.

              1. re: vorpal

                yeah, it tastes like.......wait for it.............COW.

                and Corn finishing beef, even if primarily raised on grass, turns their digestive system south right before the slaughter. Which, gets you right back to square one.

              2. re: Emmmily

                thanks for the intelligent and informative response emmmily!

                1. re: Emmmily

                  Emmmily, sounds to me like Michael Pollan is selling books, not facts. Fact: ALL cows have ecoli in their digestive system, just as all humans do. Without the e-coli we could not digest our food. Neither humans nor cows are born with e-coli present in their digestive systems, but acquire them soon after birth. From there, an evolutionary process takes over and soon each individual has a personal strain of echoli that is totally incompatible with any other individual's e-coli. Which is why it makes us sick when we eat something with even a tinge of foriegn e-coli attached to it.

                  So, in answer to trolley's original question, whether or not ANY beef product, regardless of cattle breed, carries e-coli depends wholly and entirely on how it's handled in the slaughter/packing house. To go back to Michael Pollan a moment, it would seem logical that grass fed beef and other "elite" types of cattle are slaughtered and dressed in smaller, less hurried facilities and may well have a lower degree of contamination. If you want e-coli free beef, your best bet is to raise and slaughter it yourself. Not very likely, but it is a much surere bet.

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Just went back to the book; what he says is this: All cows have e coli in their stomachs. The stomachs (rumens) of grass-fed cattle are much less acidic than our stomachs, so the strains of e coli most common in them are killed by our stomach acid if we do eat some, and we don't get sick. (Again, there are other more harmful strains as well, but they're not as prevalent.) Corn-fed cattle have much more acidic rumen, so the strain of e coli (O157:H7) which has evolved within their gut can easily survive our stomachs and make us sick. Pollan cites a study at Cornell that showed feeding a cow grass and hay for the last few days of its life reduces the more-deadly strains of e coli by 80%, but this is rarely done. So it's not that grass-fed beef don't harbor e coli, it's that the strain of e coli that thrives in the stomachs, and hence the manure, of corn-fed cows is potentially much more deadly to humans. (This is all from pg 82 of Omnivore's Dilemma, if you're curious. It's on Google Books, or a version of it appeared as an article in the NY Times years ago:

                    Again though, all this is from a single source, so take it with a grain of salt.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      Michael Pollan's books are rigorously researched. You may disagree with his conclusions, but he lays out the facts that underlie them in a way that's pretty hard to argue with.

                      As for your claim that "elite" beef are slaughtered in "smaller, less hurried facilities" - would that it were so. My cattle-ranching friends complain constantly that they have to use USDA-approved slaughterhouses, and the approval process is so onerous that, with rare exception, only industrial-scale abattoirs can comply.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        It is possible to have your animal, wild game or domestic, butchered by your local butcher at a cold locker. In my area, I know of two operations that "ranch butcher" for animals not slaughtered in large, commercial houses.

                        1. re: BN1

                          True, but that's only for personal consumption. If its meat is going to be offered for sale, an animal must be slaughtered in a USDA-approved slaughterhouse with a federal inspector present. There are only a few hundred of these in the US, and they're almost all very large operations.

                  2. If you are in the states you can get irradiated meat (Like pastuerised) if you are really worried, but just cook your ground meat to 160 F and practice good food hygiene (no cross contamination, handwashing, etc.) and you should not have to worry about the safety of your toddler.