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Economist Andy Samwick also found Sunday's New York Times expose on beef production to be reminiscent of the mortgage market. We once got our meat from slaughterhouses, and now we get our meat from something akin to livestock holding companies. "As in the mortgage mess," Samwick writes, "finding the party to hold accountable is difficult, since the responsibility is shared among a number of entities, public and private, domestic and international." And if no one is ultimately responsible, no one has a real incentive to improve the situation. From the Times article:

Costco said it had found E. coli in foreign and domestic beef trimmings and pressured suppliers to fix the problem. But even Costco, with its huge buying power, said it had met resistance from some big slaughterhouses. “Tyson will not supply us,” Mr. Wilson said. “They don’t want us to test.” [...]

The food safety officer at American Foodservice, which grinds 365 million pounds of hamburger a year, said it stopped testing trimmings a decade ago because of resistance from slaughterhouses. “They would not sell to us,” said Timothy P. Biela, the officer. “If I test and it’s positive, I put them in a regulatory situation. One, I have to tell the government, and two, the government will trace it back to them. So we don’t do that.”

Enjoy your burger.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 6, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Food  
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And then try a Boca burger!

Posted by: AZProgressive | October 6, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Let's be careful not to conflate beef with burgers here. Burgers are vastly more prone to E. Coli as bacterium lives on the outside surface of meat. Steaks, even those cooked medium rare or rare, have the outside seared and any potential E. Coli is cooked off. Ground beef is essentially nothing but surface area by virtue of the way it is produced and people would be advised not to play fast and loose with burger done-ness if they're at all worried about food poisoning. Or, as I do like my burgers medium-rare, I try to only order them as such at places I suspect have higher hygiene standards; admittedly still a gamble.

Also, and not making excuses here (and not entirely sure how the testing works), but testing for bacteria on burgers when the bacteria you're testing for lives on the outside of the meat, but in burgers the outside of the meat is homogeneously distributed on the inside AND outside; seems like it could be quite difficult.

Posted by: ThomasEN | October 6, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I love the condascending tone of the Whole Foods vegetarian otherwise known as Ezra. Sorry to burst your bubble of ignorance and naivete, but the bulk of major outbreaks in recent years have been related to non-meat products. We could solve the problem of food-borne pathogens if irradiation was used more, but I doubt you like that option either because that would make people grow horns and hooves.

Posted by: novalfter | October 6, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Good of American Foodservice's "food safety" officer to look out for the economic well-being of its slaughterhouse suppliers over the interest of, I don't know, FOOD SAFETY.

I wish he worked for me, so I could fire him.

Posted by: cjo30080 | October 6, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

It's good quality meat mixed with toxic meat -- exactly like the tranches in mortgage CDOs (or whatever they are).

Posted by: harold3 | October 6, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Following what ThomasEN said in comments above, this is true, E. Coli, when it finds its way into meat, favors the ground kind.

The obvious solution is to do it the old fashioned way: but a chuck steak and either have it ground or grind it yourself.

Better yet, cut out the whole food-industrial complex out of your supply chain and join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm/club/coop, and buy shares in a cow to be slaughtered for you. Have it ground, or don't -- your choice.

Posted by: Rick00 | October 6, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

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