Salmonella on a raw uncooked product is not, in and of itself, a public health risk … Salmonella on a raw uncooked hamburger does not make it adulterated. It does not mean that the plant is not operating in an unsanitary way.”

– Patrick Boyle, CEO of the American Meat Institute, in a 2002 Frontline interview

E. coli O157:H7 is a human pathogen that can be found in the intestines of cattle and other ruminants. In 2009-2010, this single serotype of shigatoxin-producing E. coli(STEC) was responsible for thirteen multistate disease outbreaks. USDA recognizes E. coli O157:H7 and six other STEC serotypes as adulterants in raw beef. Salmonella is a human pathogen that can be found in the intestines of cattle and many other animals. In 2009-2010, Salmonella was behind twenty-one multistate disease outbreaks. Yet, as far as USDA is concerned, Salmonella is NOT an adulterant in raw beef. According to the Federal Meat Inspection Act, meat is considered “adulterated” if  “…it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health…“ A USDA training program explains that, “… E. coli O157:H7 is considered to be an added substance because it is introduced to the product during processing. For example, it is spread from the hide or digestive tract of the animals during slaughter or processing. It is injurious to health because one of the normal ways of cooking this product includes “rare” which is not sufficient to destroy the pathogen.” In case anyone at USDA hasn’t noticed, Salmonella also is ” … spread from the hide or digestive tract of the animals during slaughter or processing.“ And Salmonella, likewise, is not destroyed by “rare” cooking of meat. Since October 2011, the CDC has reported three multistate outbreaks of Salmonellainfections that were linked to consumption of contaminated ground beef.

  • Between October 8th and December 17th, 2011, twenty persons in seven states were infected with Salmonella Typhimurium. Victims included a child less than one year of age, and a 79-year-old individual. Eight people were hospitalized. The illnesses were traced to ground beef purchased from Hannaford supermarkets.
  • Between June 6th and July 27th, 2012, forty-six persons in nine states were infected with Salmonella Enteritidis. The youngest outbreak victim was three years old; the eldest was 101. Twelve people were hospitalized. The outbreak was traced to ground beef produced on a single date at a Cargill Meat Solutions production facility.
  • On January 25, 2013, CDC announced a new outbreak. Sixteen people in five states have been infected with the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak strain so far. Seven of the outbreak victims reported eating raw ground beef kibbeh at a restaurant in Michigan. Seven of the 16 outbreak victims were hospitalized. CDC considers that ground beef produced by two companies – Jouni Meats, Inc., and Gab Halal Foods – is the likely source of the outbreak.

In 2001, a Texas-based meat processor (Supreme Beef) successfully fought USDA’s efforts to set limits on Salmonella in raw meat, after the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling in the company’s favor. USDA chose NOT to take the battle to the US Supreme Court. The following year, an effort by the Senator Tom Harkin, the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to introduce legislation to clarify USDA’s authority was opposed – successfully – by the American Meat Institute. In short, more than ten years ago, USDA tucked its collective head back into its tortoise shell, even though Salmonella is, by definition of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, an adulterant. Are USDA and Congress waiting for raw beef to be the source of a fatal Salmonella outbreak before scraping together the courage to oppose the American Meat Institute lobby? Are those responsible for food safety so beholden to – or frightened of – the meat lobby that nothing else will embolden them to take action? Someone explain this to me. Please! This article originally appeared on eFoodAlert January 27, 2013.