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Oct 13, 2010 07:07 AM

Irradiated Beef [split from Boston]

(Note: This thread was split from Boston at: -- The Chowhound Team)

I used to think highly of Wegman's, based on a few shopping experiences in Pennsylvania and Virginia. However my opinion of them dropped sharply a few months back when perusing their website and looking at their then current weekly circular for a store in Northern VA. There was a very large and prominent portion of a page lauding the "advantages" of irradiated beef. Ugh. Based on this revelation about what Wegman's sells I would NEVER compare Wegman's with Whole Foods and doubt I would make a special trip all the way out to Northborough (from Belmont) to shop there.

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  1. . They offer a few different grades/package sizes of irradiated ground beef that come packed clearly labeled. This is in addition to all the normal meats. When a store is 4-5x the size of a normal grocery store they are going to have a wide variety of products and im sure there are many items you wouldnt want to buy. Doesnt mean the items you do like are not good. Your condeming a store based on one item that you dont agree with out of thousands??

    7 Replies
    1. re: hargau

      It's not just one item. I don't want to get into a debate about irradiation here - and the mods probably would remove it - but the Wegman's advertisement for irradiated beef was a real hard sell and as such reflects the intended values of the Wegman's brand. Clearly those values are not in line with mine, so my desire to shop there is greatly diminished.

      Beyond that, if Wegman's proudly sells irradiated beef they most likely would be willing to sell irradiated other things, like produce. Plus, according to USDA regulations, food that contains irradiated ingredients does not have to be marked as being irradiated. For example, this could apply to things like pre-made heat-and-serve food, sandwiches, and salads.

      By not shopping at Wegman's I am voting with my dollars, just like any good consumer is supposed to do.

      1. re: PinchOfSalt

        Well you better keep your dollars away from Stop and Shop too

        And Shaws

        Hannafords, Big Y, etc etc

        omaha steaks, Sysco, Dairy Queen etc....

        So where do you vote with your dollars? Just Whole Foods?

        1. re: hargau

          I get most of my meat from my meat CSA. During the warm weather months most of my produce comes from farmer's markets, Russo's, and Wilson's. The rest of the year it is just mostly from Russo's.

          I have not shopped at Shaws in years for all sorts of reasons - such as their prices (and quality). I generally avoid Stop and Shop too. Their prices are not as bad as Shaws but still high. My main supermarket for groceries is Market Basket. I do occasionally buy meat there and at Costco to supplement the CSA meat. I have never seen either of those chains advertising or selling irradiated meat. I can't ever imagine buying beef from Omaha Steaks. If I want super premium beef to supplement my nice grass-fed CSA beef I will get it from a local butcher.

          My ire at Wegman's is particularly intense because of the way they are positioning irradiated beef as a product. To me it is wrong (in the sense of being bad) on many levels. None of the other chains you mention are doing so, at least not in the Boston area market.

          1. re: PinchOfSalt

            So its ok to sell it as long as your sneaky about it!? I personally would rather they position it as a product and show it labeled as such then to be sneaking around with it. I guess i would have had to have seen this advertisement/push for it that you saw.

            I dont agree with the production of Foie Gras yet im not going to boycott/badmouth a store because 2-3 of their 300,000 items contain Foie Gras or that they had a special on it once 5 years ago and im afraid they might slip some into my tacos.

            But everyone has their own irks with various places for various reasons.. Just like i will never step into the beloved East Coast Grill again... To each their own. I certainly have no stock/share in Wegmans in fact its in my best interest that none of you go so there will be less crowds/shorter lines when i do :) Im sure many will say the same about Ecg and I! :)

            Thanks for the good conversation

            East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
            1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

            1. re: hargau

              Sneakiness is NOT okay. But FDA rules say you have to label irradiated meat (when it is sold alone as meat), and I doubt that any of the chains we've just discussed would try to get away with ignoring that.

              Also, thank YOU for the good conversation. We have kept it civil and respectful. I certainly don't mind defending my ideas, and it does a service to the greater community to show that there are at least two sides to a particular issue.

              I have refrained from explaining why I feel this is so important because I once posted elsewhere on CH about the topic and my post disappeared. Well the mods have their policies, and that's just the way it is. But feel free to email me privately (see my profile) if you are curious. I'd be happy to explain and I promise that no weird pseudo-science accusations or conspiracies are involved.

              1. re: PinchOfSalt

                Please dont confuse my pro-wegmans view to be pro irradicated ground beef! I certainly do not buy that or want to eat it! However my view is that most of the other markets are selling it as well and that Wegmans is a superior market for the items i DO want to buy.

                Also having lived in Rochester i can tell you the type of values that Danny Wegman has. I have met him, listened to him speak at my college, spoken to many people who have worked for him. If all stores could have values like he does then the planet would be a much better place trust me on this. Wegmans is consistantly one of the best companies in the country to work for. Not just best grocery stores, best companies. His face/name/signature on a product or commercial really means alot to people in the upstate area because they know he can be trusted. So the idea of him promoting sneaking irradicated ground beef by in his prepared foods or other products to me is absurd.

                1. re: hargau

                  ha! You said it would happen and it did! Here we are in no-bodies land....

    2. Wegmans should be commended for this improvement in food safety, not condemned. Irradiation KILLS the microbes (e.coli and their friends...) that make you sick. You can now have a nice, juicy RARE hamburger without the worry of contacting a deadly disease. All bulk ground meats should be required to be irradiated. The meat is not radioactive, it does not glow-in-the-dark, is not GMO, etc.

      31 Replies
      1. re: NVJims

        I've never noticed irradiated ground beef in the grocery stores in Minnesota. I know there was one frozen hamburger patty manufacturer that was one of the first to make irradiated frozen hamburger patties, but since we don't typically buy those, I haven't paid much attention to them. If I saw irradiated hamburger in a grocery store and I was planning on grilling burgers, I would buy the irradiated as long as it wasn't too much more per pound. (There is a young woman that lives less than two hours from us that is paralized from ecoli from a burger).

        1. re: NVJims

          Indeed. I'm unclear why these people are against irradiated ground beef. It's a net positive.

          1. re: jgg13

            Because it is ground beef that is produced under such shitty (sic!) conditions that they need to nuke it just to be safe.

            I'd rather have ground beef produced under better conditions that doesn't need to be nuked. I just prefer not to eat manure with my rare burger. There's an explanation for ya.

            1. re: linguafood

              agreed. irradiation becomes necessary for food safety when the food is produced under horrendously unsanitary and filthy conditions, such as our contemporary industrialized american cafo/slaughterhouse system.

              you don't need to irradiate good beef raised and slaughtered in clean conditions. i'm not enthused to see the irradiated beef trend, as it means that the food system is becoming more and more frighteningly unsafe and dirty.

              "irradiated shit is still shit."

              1. re: soupkitten

                When you put it that way, I have to agree. I was going under the assumption that cleanliness laws are being enforced and the irradtion is an extra precaution, not an excuse to allow beef to land on a contaminated surface (floor of the slaughter site).

                We stopped buying frozen hamburger patties and ground beef sold in the chubs. The only ground beef we buy is from our local store.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  There are so many ways food can be contaminated. While less than ideal conditions in slaughterhouses and the like are one of them, it's still only one of many possibilities. So, pointing to one of many causes/sources is unfair (And, very naive - Plenty of organic/local foods have caused illnesses over the years.).

                  Irradiated meat is slightly more expensive, but it's the possible alteration of taste that's my only concern. There's a very subtle difference, so for me the issue of buying it really comes down to what it'll be used for. If a lot of spices or heavy sauces are involved, I'll go for the extra safety. If it's going to be a simpler dish, I'll go for the untreated.

                2. re: linguafood

                  Then why not simply complain about store bought ground beef in general? It's all crappy stuff.

                  There's absolutely nothing wrong with irradiating food for an extra bit of safety, nor does it necessarily imply worsening conditions.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    Because it's a perfidious method of making eating shit safe. And I don't buy 'regular' supermarket ground beef, either.

                    1. re: linguafood

                      Yet again, you're implying a causal connection between irradiation and a lowering of safety standards - and there's simply no necessity on that. One could also say that it's simply done to improve on existing standards.

                      Let me ask you this - suppose you had perfectly AOK ground meat. It was provably 100% safe. Also suppose the irradiation process cost nothing extra in time, money, etc. Would you object to it being irradiated? If so, why? Specifically, what is the harm in doing it in this case?

                      1. re: jgg13

                        It would be unnecessary. Why do it? I'm not sure I understand.

                        I buy my ground beef at the farmer's market from local producers. Shit-free meat. No irradiation necessary. It's not like those magic rays make it taste any better.

                        But hey - I'd be the last person to stop you from buying irradiated ground beef. It's a free country, I hear '-P

                        1. re: linguafood

                          But if it costs nothing to you, why do you care if it is unnecessary? What if your local producers started doing it at your farmers market - ignore that you deem it unnecessary, would you care?

                          As for me, I grind my own beef anyways, I don't directly have a horse in this race.

                          1. re: jgg13

                            Hmmm We drink well water here, tests perfect out of the ground, good stuff... Dasani water is filtered and reverse osmosis. Does that mean its shit water and my water is better? Or does that mean they do an extra step that maybe unnecessary to prevent possible issues.

                            The original point of this thread wasnt to debate if irradiation meat is good or bad. It was if the fact that a store offers it as one of thousands of choices in the inventory, does that make the store morally bad or likely to start sneaking said irradiation meat into their prepared food offerings..

                            1. re: hargau

                              I absolutely LOVE Wegmans. It has saved my culinary sanity, and I shop there most every day, which means I am on a first-name basis with a LOT of folks who work there.

                              When one of them offered me irradiated beef, I basically told them I wasn't interested in buying beef that had to take the extra step to make sure all the shit bacteria are killed.

                              I still go to Wegmans every day, but frankly would be loathed to buy any of their prepared foods that contain ground beef.

                              1. re: linguafood

                                Your missing the point i guess. You keep using the assumption that the meat "had to take the extra step".. .. Where do you get the info that the meat needed the extra step and that the meat without the step didnt need it?? If you choose to eat the normal grocery store ground beef products raw/rare you are putting yourself at risk as they all need the extra step just as much if eating it that way. If you cook any of them thru then it isnt an issue. So it makes 0 sense that they would opt to use more expensive ground meat in their prepared foods that are not served rare to begin with. It would only increase costs. To use such meat as pizza topping or taco filling.

                                1. re: hargau

                                  No, I am not missing the point. WHY do you think they (or whoever came up with the anti-feces magical ray) felt there was a need to take said extra step?

                                  If the ground beef they were selling could be safely eaten raw, rare, or med-rare without having to worry about e.coli and such, there would be no need to take that extra step, no?

                                  I do NOT eat grocery store ground beef, period. I would ABSOLUTELY not eat grocery store ground beef raw, rare, or med-rare, BECAUSE of the risk. The risk is very real b/c of the abysmal conditions under which it is produced.

                                  As for the prepared food - I've just never felt the need / desire to purchase something I could just as easily make at home, with ingredients whose provenance I feel secure about.

                                  I really don't find this complicated to understand.

                                  1. re: linguafood

                                    No doubt the risk is real and my point is that the meat that is irradiation treated is no worse then the other meat sold at the stores.. Your earlier posts seemed to be saying that it was free liberty to offer a lower cost/worse condition meats than the others at the market. But now you say its all the meat at the market that is bad.

                                    Then when the subject of wegmans slipping said irradiated beef into prepared foods, you say you would be loathed to buy any prepared foods with ground beef.... In other words you think they would... Yet now you say that youwouldnt buy any prepared foods that you could make.. So kinda talking in circles.. but i see what your saying now.. So you never need a quick snack/meal or dont feel like cooking it yourself?? say you want a pizza but dont feel like buying all the ingredients and making a big production at home?? Please dont circle back and respond with "i dont get ground beef on my pizzas"...

                                    This extends to most restaurants too. So you dont eat anything at a restaurant you cant make at home? Or ground beef products at any restaurant? Certainly the local Tacoria isnt going to your farmers market.

                                    1. re: hargau

                                      honestly, the only prepared snacks i ever get at wegmans are sushi (and not recently, since i just had the pleasure of eating at yasuda in nyc and it's hard & sad to go back to supermarket sushi), and sometimes their fried rice. oh, and the fish fry, but i haven't done that in ages.

                                      so no, to answer your question, i haven't and generally don't buy prepared foods at wegmans that contain ground beef.

                                      do i order ground beef products at restaurants? you betcha. i am a great fan of the burger. most places i frequent grind their own beef, tho, so....

                                      tacos in central pa? ummm, not so much '-)

                                      ok. tired of this topic now -- if you'll excuse me. it wasn't all that fascinating in the first place.

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        Your a master of avoiding questions/subjects/etc.. Your prior statement wasnt with Wegmans but a generality.. You have changed the subject/story3 times now regarding prepared foods. 1st it was you wouldnt buy products with ground beef in them at wegmans cause they may be irradiated. Then it was that you dont buy any prepared foods ever if you can make them at home. Now it is that you buy some things prepared (and at wegmans) but not with ground beef. But apparantly elsewhere is ok just not at wegmans for some reason.

                                        What does grinding your own meat have to do with ecoli?? Do you know the main reason places frown on rare burgers but are ok with rare steaks?? The meats contain bacteria on the outside layer. If you cook a rare steak the outside layer gets up to temp to kill them. The inside layers are clean/safe so ok rare. If you now grind it (your own grinder or anyone elses) you are mixing that outside layer throughout and those bacteria are now in the middle too. So the entire illusion that a place that buys cuts of meat and grinds them up themselves is safe is a total falacy.

                                        So when you cant support your argument you quit and say it wasnt interesting...

                                          1. re: hargau

                                            Bravo! There is a greater chance that "Green Joe's Organic Meat Market" is not inspected as regular as the big packers and "Joe" is more likely to pick up a piece off of the floor...(that hindquarter that slipped off of the table represents a greater percentage of his sales than a similar slip at the big boys...) I know that when I butcher game, I am getting some cross contamination, and I do not make any ground meat products to be safer.

                                      2. re: linguafood

                                        So your *entire* objection is purely that you have the (unfounded, IMO) belief that irradiation necessarily implies the need to irradiate for safety?

                                        Outside of hand waving about the slaughter practices of commercial beef, you really haven't provided a single valid reason as to why one should avoid irradiation - unless of course one does assume irradiation is only ever done due to necessity.

                                        1. re: jgg13

                                          yes, that is my entire objection. if it weren't necessary to do it, it wouldn't be done.

                                          sorry, but was i writing in german this whole time??

                                          1. re: linguafood

                                            No, but your argument makes no sense. If it isn't adding cost to the final product, why should you care if it is done or not? You keep dodging the hypothetical that if beef you knew were perfectly AOK were to be irradiated at absolutely zero cost to you, would you mind. I suspect that you would, and that's what I'm trying to get you to answer. If you answer 'yes' then I want to know what that reason is. If your answer is 'no', then so be it.

                                            Anyways, why should we be upset if an extra layer of food safety is used? You keep acting as if the *only* reason one would do it would be to allow for even shoddier food safety practices to develop, and that's simply not true.

                                            1. re: jgg13

                                              because it is NOT about the EXTRA COST to me, which is an argument YOU keep bringing up. obviously, the meat one purchases at the CSA or farmer's market is a LOT more expensive than your $3.99/lbs. ground chuck at the supermarket, and obviously, i am not against paying more for quality meat.

                                              what my particular definition of AOK meat is seems to very much differ from yours, which is AOK with me.

                                              but i disagree with the argument in your last paragraph:

                                              "as if the *only* reason one would do it would be to allow for even shoddier food safety practices to develop, and that's simply not true."

                                              it may not be the *only* reason, but reason enough for me not to buy shit-infested beef.

                                      3. re: hargau

                                        irradiated beef is generally not more expensive. it is generally low-quality by definition. lots of usda commodity beef is irradiated. consumers are correct to worry that irradiated beef may be used in prepared foods by grocers who sell or distribute the product.

                                        i think it's YOU and others who miss the point. there is a reason irradiated beef is banned in the european union--irradiating the fat in the meat leads to the formation of carcinogens. this has led to all sorts of bans and exporting problems with u.s. produced beef in particular. if our food system were safer, we could export more food and improve the economy.

                                        to the point below, small farmer/ranchers who produce a safe product would not choose to irradiate their product voluntarily, because it would disastrously affect sales with more educated consumers.

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          "irradiating the fat in the meat leads to the formation of carcinogens"

                                          cite please. and i mean a link that involves things like p-values and false discovery rates ... not links that lead to random weirdos on the internet claiming it's true.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            "Lots of usda commodity beef is irradiated"?
                                            I have never bought irradiated meat at any grocer. The law states they must be labeled. And the ones i have seen are always more expensive....

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              I have not yet formed an opinion on the subject, so I'm quite interested in finding out what actual scientific studies have found on how irradiation is used today.

                                              Unfortunately almost everything I find on the Web looks more like scare-mongering pseudoscience than actual evidence-based science. US health authorities have approved it - the EU has not, but that doesn't sway me one way or the other, I've seen the EU take what I consider to be irrational positions on food safety in the past (of course, so has the USDA, where things like raw milk cheeses are concerned).

                                              So, to paraphrase that immortal Wendy's commercial (most apt in this context) - where's the science?

                                              1. re: BobB

                                                My experience (which is admittedly not encyclopedic on this topic) is that you will find no real research that demonstrates a clear causal link between irradiation of food and health concerns of any sort. You'll find some (usually weak) correlations, mostly in animal models, and the retroactive human studies I've seen have been so pathetically controlled/normalized that they're not worth looking at. Of course, there are the people that claim that this process must be provably safe - but that's an impossible task ... you can prove something is *not* safe, but it is simply not going to happen if you declare something must be proven safe in all situations.

                                                All that said, I go back to my original disclaimer, there might be published literature that I haven't seen. A quick scan of pubmed abstracts right now didn't change my opinion any.

                                                1. re: BobB

                                                  well, do you read french or german, or do you have $32 to purchase the English copy of the abstract? it was a 1999 collaborative study by eu scientists, using cultured human cells and lab rats. the report exceeded 100 pages, so not exactly a neat little wiki entry, unfortunately.


                                                  relevant excerpt:

                                                  In an experiment with rats treated with a specific colon carcinogen, it was shown that 2-tDCB and 2-tDeCB have a promoter effect on the development of colon tumors. In this experiment, we found a larger number of aberrant crypts and development of more and larger tumors in the animals that received 2-ACBs in combination with the carcinogen azoxymethane (AOM). Although we did not observe initiation of tumor development by 2-ACBs alone, both the in vitro tests and the in vivo experiments with laboratory animals demonstrate that 2-ACBs have potential toxicity. In other feeding studies, it was shown that a very small amount of 2-ACBs can be recovered from fatty tissue, while a similar small amount is excreted in feces. These results indicate that 2-ACBs are largely metabolized or possibly stored in other parts of the body. Therefore, further studies are absolutely necessary in order to elucidate the metabolism of 2-ACBs.

                                                  the research results are a big reason that eu govts put the brakes on widespread irradiation in europe-- while irradiated spices are common, irradiated meat and other fat-containing foods are not. it is my understanding that many u.k. consumers have a poor impression of irradiated foods, as in recent years irradiation has extended the shelf life of unfrozen shrimp and shellfish by up to 10 days after normal expiry, so irradiated seafood is perceived to be of poor quality. maybe some of the u.k. contributors will touch this sticky subject.

                                                  at any rate, sorry that a study by eu scientists is not apt to hold water for you. i tend to take into account that eu scientists are not in american big ag's pockets, and are apt to do good science for science's sake, not because they have a financial interest to have their results point a particular way. with decent meat easily accessible in my area i'll opt out of the cheap&dirty irradiated beef, thanks. i think the folks saying that if one doesn't consume irradiated beef, one endangers themselves and their family to the risks of ecoli are trying to form a false construct.

                                            2. re: linguafood

                                              Again I ask you - if your local farmers market producers one day told you that they decided to irradiate their beef, would you still buy it? Mind you, in this hypothetical they're not raising their prices and their situation hasn't changed at all (i.e. presumably they don't have any real need to do it).

                          2. As a totally unrelated aside, I can't look at this thread title without thinking "4691 irradiated haggis".

                            (Any other Red Dwarf fans out there?)

                            1. Risks v. Benefits - each person comes to their own point of comfort. Nothing is 100% safe - certainly not grinding your own meat. e. coli can just as easily be on the outside of a bulk meat cut and get transferred to the ground meat at home. If serving Yu Kwe (Korean beef tartare) I'll actually par-boil the meat and then slice off the thin brown outside, grinding only what was inside, unexposed beef - maybe not 100%, but a lot closer.

                              Why are locavore butchers better at this than factories? I know a guy that got trichinosis from local pork.

                              I buy hamburger only when I know I'm going to fully cook it - like in chilli. When making hamburgers (which I like medium rare), I'll grind my own - and generally without the amount of care taken for Yu Kwe - Risks v. Benefits...

                              But I would have no problem if a law were past making all grocery store ground meat irradiated. Given the current conditions of factory ground meat processing in the US, the risks for the average consumer are way too high. The risk for damage from irradiation are not going to be as evident until further studies, especially epidemiological ones, are completed.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: applehome

                                but regardless of the risk or no risk of irradiation, it's like putting lipstick on a pig (or cow, in that case). instead of dealing with the problems of industrial meat production at the source. ugh.

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  actually its nothing like that.. lipstick is purely cosmetic/for looks.. This actually does something...

                                  Regardless i personally wouldnt buy irradition meat just cause i dont like the "idea' of it.. But i wouldnt condemn a store for carrying it. Nor would i not buy the other meats in the store because they carry a line or irradition burgers.

                                  Store vs farmer market meats is a totally different subject. But personally im a bit sketched out by people with meat from i dont know where, selling it out of the trunks of their cars. Could be better, could be worse, who knows..