If you’re like many Americans right now, you’ve probably got a package of ground beef (or two) sitting in your fridge, waiting to be tossed on the grill for one of your last barbecues of summer. But a new study from Consumer Reports is revealing some disturbing new information about what might be lurking in your burger meat — and it’s not pretty.
We’ll warn you now: You might not want to read this while eating your lunch. In a test of more than 300 packages of ground beef (that’s 1,832 quarter-pounders to you), researchers found that every single one contained bacteria indicating fecal contamination. (Yup, we mean poop.) Plus, 20 percent of the samples contained C. perfringens, a type of bacteria that is linked to a whopping one million food poisoning cases every year, according to Consumer Reports.
In what might seem like good news, only one percent of the samples contained salmonella. But Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Food Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports says, “Extrapolate that to the billions of pounds of ground beef we eat every year, and that’s a lot of burgers with the potential to make you sick.”
Get Smart About Buying Ground Beef
But hey, we’re not suggesting you give up ground beef for good. (If you want to, though, here’s an awesome veggie burger recipe to get you started). You just need to wise up about what you’re purchasing — like what to look for on the labels — and pay attention when you’re dining out, too.
“We suggest that you choose what’s labeled ‘grass-fed organic beef’ whenever you can,” Rangan said in a press release. Consumer Reports found that ground beef from conventionally raised cows (the ones that eat grain and soy, and receive lots of antibiotics to prevent disease) are more likely to contain bacteria than beef from sustainably raised animals. But, it can still be a guessing game to a degree. “There’s no way to tell by looking at a package of meat or smelling it whether it has harmful bacteria or not,” Rangan adds.
RELATED: The Dirty Dozen: What to Buy Organic
You might also want to avoid ordering burgers rare or medium-rare (cooked to a temperature under 160° F). Whereas bacteria generally live only on the surface of a cut of steak (where it can be easily cooked off), it can linger even in the middle of ground beef. That means it needs to be cooked more thoroughly to kill off the bad stuff.
The moral of the story: Shop for ground beef with care — and be sure to cook it to at least medium temperature (or order it to the same). And while you’re at it, check out these seven grilling tips for a healthier summer barbecue, too.
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