Friday, October 19, 2007
Made it, Ma! Topps of the world!
Topps Meat Company, LLC has closed its doors after 67 years as a direct result of the recall of over 21 million pounds of frozen ground beef products for E coli contamination. (author's note, though Topps has a Buffalo connection, it is not related to the Tops Supermarket chain from which I have just returned from.) Topps is not alone. Cargill has been sued for a similar outbreak which led to a recall, and ConAgra had to recall frozen pot pies, including the Banquet brand, for salmonella contamination.
When salmonella shows up in your peanut butter, or E coli in your spinach, that's their fault. When it shows up in pre-made burgers or pot pies, it's the consumers. I am going to stay away from the pot pie issue for now -- Frozen pot pie + microwave is too vomit inducing.
But, frozen burgers are considered by many to be a convenience. I disagree. I have no problem with shortcuts, but I have never tasted any of them that have any beef taste, and frankly they impossible to cook to the nice medium rare - the way I like them. In fact, I am a bit surprised that anyone could undercook them.
The particular problem with ground beef is that pathogens infect the surface of the meat, and most methods of cooking it eliminate, or at least reduce, the possibility of infection. But, once the meat is ground, the surface area increases and the contaminated surfaces are mixed in. Cook the burger mid-rare and you may be creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
The threat of a food borne illness is a risk, especially if you choose to not cook your food up to USDA recommendations. I'm sorry, but a burger cooked to an internal temperature of 165º is tasteless, so I choose to ignore that. So what can someone do? Well, you can buy irradiated beef, if you can find it, but in my experience it is too finely ground and may pose health risks of its own. Our local makets appear keenly aware of food safety, but that won't help if the meat they grind is contaminated and sits in the case until you buy it.
The best choice - grind your own. David Rosengarten once created an arcanely crafted recipe for the best hamburger meat, using bits from a variety of cuts. I just use chuck. I semi-freeze the meat, slice it into strips, and run it through the grinder with the large die. But, if you don't have the time or equipment to grind it yourself, allow me to suggest an underused alternative. March into our local supermarket, buy a chuck roast and ask the guys behind the counter to grind it for you there and then.
It's not perfect but it works. If you enjoy your burger after all this work, call your congressperson an demand an increase in funding for the USDA's inspection program!