When considering the sale of meat that contains illness-causing bacteria, it seems safe to assume that (in the modern post-Jungle era) if it can make us sick, it can’t be sold. But several E.coli outbreaks in recent years go to show: Not everything that can make us sick is adequately regulated and banned for our protection. Or at least, it wasn’t until today.
According to an article by Reuters, just one strain —0157:H7—has ever been officially banned by the government. The other six (026, 011, 045, 0121, 0103 and 0145) which have been linked to multiple outbreaks of illness, have not.
Yup, those six strains of E.coli were totally kosher (so to speak). Who knew?
But, beginning today, the government is stepping up illness prevention, by banning the sale of ground beef containing the other six strains of E.coli, the deadly bacteria that has been found responsible for numerous outbreaks and recalls.
The rationale behind retaining the legal status of these six strains, according to the American Meat Institute, is that they rarely directly cause illnesses when present in meat itself. They do, however, put produce and other food items at major risk for cross-contamination. In a recent blog post, food safety lawyer Bill Marler stated that “according to the CDC, E. coli O157:H7 causes 73,000 illnesses and 50 deaths every year in the United States. [The others] are considered less pervasive, sickening “only” an estimated 37,000 people a year and killing nearly 30.”
Various government bodies have considered banning the additional six strains since 2007, however, it’s taken them several years to amass the necessary data and actually move toward labeling the strains “adulterants.”
Of course, other, less harmful strains of the disease, as well as plenty of other bacteria and potential contaminants, will still remain in meat of all kinds. Which is why, if you’re going to eat the stuff, proper handling and cooking of any kind of animal protein remain highly important—regardless of what’s legal and what’s not.