Raw meat and poultry, including ground beef, contains bacteria

Safe handling instructions are placed on raw meat and poultry packages and indicate that proper handling and cooking are key steps when consuming meat.

Ever notice the safe handing instructions on a package of raw meat or poultry? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates on each package of raw meat and poultry that some foods may contain bacteria and cause illness if not properly handled and cooked. Michigan State University Extension reminds consumers that firmness or color is not an indicator of doneness in ground beef and that hamburgers need to be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (F).

Safe handling instructions are meant to remind consumers that raw meat and poultry may contain bacteria. The types of bacteria that are present vary from good bacteria to bad bacteria. Bacteria are microorganisms that are everywhere, including in animals, humans, plants, and soil. Bacteria are very small in size and a microscope is needed to see them. Some bacteria are pathogenic and may cause illnesses in humans; other bacteria are beneficial. Some types of bacteria may have many different strains. An example of bacteria that has strains that are beneficial and strains that could make people sick is E. coli.

Consumer Reports recently published How Safe is Your Ground Beef?, they found that all of their samples had bacteria present. That is not surprising or alarming. The report found generic E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, enterococcus, and Clostridium perfringens. These bacteria are normally found in the environment. Their findings did not show any pathogenic E. coli that are shiga-toxin producing types of E. coli. Salmonella was not found in 99 percent of their samples, and this is in-line with USDA findings of 0.9 percent of ground beef containing Salmonella. The Consumer Reports indicated that beef they described as sustainable was safer than beef raised conventionally, but their results indicated that beef from both types of production systems contained bacteria. All types of ground beef, regardless of how it was raised may contain bacteria. For ground beef to be safe to eat, it must be handled properly and cooked thoroughly to at least 160 degrees F. 

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