Because chuck and rump roasts often go on sale for 10 to 50 cents a pound less than the grocery store’s hamburger, I look for bargain roasts and ask the butcher to grind it for me. Not only is the resulting hamburger cheaper, I find it invariably tastes much better than preground burger. Well… did you see the Sunday Times‘s exposé about the gross ways hamburger is prepared in slaughterhouses and the unholy results on public health? Add another good reason for asking the butcher to grind a single roast: ground beef from a source you can see is safer and you know what’s in it!
I’m not going to dwell on the horrific facts reporter Michael Moss uncovered, except to point out that the single burger that poisoned a 22-year-old woman and left her in a wheelchair for life likely consisted of “products” from four different meat packers, some of which define meat in ways you and I would define “garbage.” One of them contributed “lean finely textured beef,” which consists of “trimmings” put through a centrifuge and then treated with ammonia to kill microbes. Yummie!
This explains why the custom-ground hamburger from a butcher’s counter tastes better than even the best of preground burger. It may explain, too, why neither the dog nor I have croaked over from food poisoning. Yet.
Other than abstaining from hamburger, what can you do to keep your family safe? Nothing is 100 percent, but a few habitual strategies will help:
• Buy preground meat at Costco, one of the few retailers that tests meats for bacterial contamination before marketing them.
• Buy beef roasts at a butcher shop or at a grocery store with a staffed butcher counter. Select lean cuts and ask the butcher to grind them for you.
• Never buy preshaped, prepared hamburger patties. Ever.
• Before preparing burger for cooking, place a bottle of dish detergent next to the sink, so it will be handy.
• Use a plate or a synthetic, dishwasher-proof cutting board as a surface for shaping hamburger patties. Use a dishwasher-proof bowl for mixing meat loaf or meatball ingredients. Never use the counter as a surface on which to prepare raw hamburger.
• Never, EVER leave frozen hamburger out on the counter to defrost!!!!! At normal kitchen temperatures, it takes just 45 minutes for E. coli bacteria to double in number. And since just a few cells can make a diner very sick, indeed, the longer meat is out of the freezer or fridge, the greater the likelihood of food-borne illness.
• Each time you handle raw hamburger, go to the sink and use the dish detergent to wash your hands thoroughly before touching any other surface in the kitchen. This is extremely important!
Do not touch the kitchen cabinets, dishes, glassware, silverware, doorknobs, or anything else without washing your hands first.
• After the burger is in a pan or on a grill, place the plate, bowl, or cutting board on which you prepared the meat directly into the dishwasher. If you don’t have a functioning dishwasher, fill the kitchen sink with hot water, strong dish detergent, and about a quarter cup of Clorox. Immerse all tools used in hamburger preparation in this solution and allow them to soak for 10 or 15 minutes before scrubbing, rinsing, and draining.
• Cook hamburger well done. If, like me, you can’t stomach well-done barbecued hamburger, find something better to eat.
• Never reuse the same plate that carried the meat out to the barbecue grill to bring cooked meat back inside! Put that plate directly into the washer, or scrub it well with strong detergent and hot water before reusing.
• Use detergent to thoroughly clean the countertop on which you did the meat prep. Then scrub down the faucet and sink, and also wash doorknobs and cabinet knobs that might have been touched with contaminated fingers. Don’t forget to wash the outside of the dish detergent container.
• Clorox is an effective disinfectant. If your counter will tolerate Clorox, use it. If not, use a strong solution of concentrated Windex, or make your own by mixing rubbing alcohol and water in equal proportions with an added dose of ammonia. Wipe down all countertops, sinks, faucets, doorknobs, and cabinet knobs with this product.
It’s a shame that regulation of the meat industry has grown so lax that we have to take extreme measures to protect ourselves. But of course, when you kill the beast, you take the chance that you’ll kill the consumers the beast was created to protect. That seems to be the case today. If we American carnivores want to live and we want to see our children spend their lives mobile and in good health, we need to take steps to keep our kitchens safe. Let’s bear in mind: we don’t live in Europe!
Image: American Beef Cuts. Public Domain. Wikipedia Commons.