When I strolled into the meat shop last Saturday morning, my E-mail inbox had a surprise waiting for me! I received notification about yet another meat recall. But this wasn’t just any old meat recall. My eyes did a little double take. The recall was for a strain of E. coli known as O26. So, what’s the big deal you say?
Well, it basically boils down to the fact that E. coli O157:H7 is highly regulated and strictly enforced with a zero tolerance policy. This in itself is enough to drive a small (even large!) USDA inspected beef slaughter and fabrication plant mad. Why? Folks, there is no sterile raw meat product. YES, you heard it here. Not even a small slaughter plant can create a sterile raw meat product. Try as we may, there are no guarantees. I know, I know…you heard that grass fed beef or small family farms can’t have E. coli, Salmonella, or whatever bug. You read somewhere that small slaughterhouses somehow create a magical, mystical safe meat.
BREAKING NEWS! That just isn’t so. We are not perfect. Sterile raw meat is NOT achievable (unless we irradiate it, which we won’t and can’t … it’s a super-pricey investment!). You heard it here first.
Why not? Three words: Miniscule Microscopic Nasties (MMN). I cannot smell, taste or detect MMN’s without a laboratory. I can use best practices, such as affordable interventions and sanitation to try and control it. I can sample to ensure those practices are working as best as possible. I can minimize the risk to the best of my ability – but I cannot eliminate it.
What does all this chatter have to do with the E. coli O26 recall?
Recently, there has been a push to legally classify other non-E.coli O157:H7 strains (shiga-toxin producing E. coli, or STEC), E. coli O26 for example, as adulterants. In short, these strains would be treated the same as O157:H7. When the webosphere gets riled up and Congress gets involved, my ears begin to perk up (and turn slightly red). Let’s talk about a few of the more notable entries onto the food safety bandwagon.