There's Probably Poop Bacteria In Your Burger — Should You Care?

Photographed by Ben Ritter.
Last summer, we came to terms with the fact that burgers basically contain hamster bedding. We thought we really grew from that experience, but new research from Consumer Reports has us running scared all over again. The analysis, published yesterday, sampled 300 packages of ground beef from 26 cities in the U.S. and found traces of fecal bacteria in every pound. The study sampled over 400 pounds of beef from both conventional and more sustainable farms that use little more than antibiotics on their cattle.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) was quick to respond. Although it did not outright deny Consumer Reports's findings, NAMI made sure to clarify that the types of fecal contamination found in the sample rarely cause illnesses. Vice president of scientific affairs Betsy Booren, PhD, explained that the types of bacteria that most frequently cause foodborne illnesses were barely present in Consumer Reports's sample, if at all. Although strains of E. coli were found, they were not of the toxin-producing variety, which Dr. Booren says makes a major difference. The contaminants detected, she claims, simply were not "the foodborne bacteria of greatest public health concern."

NAMI and Consumer Reports can at least agree that proper preparation and cooking (to about medium) will kill a major amount of bacteria in ground beef, and Consumer Reports emphasizes that you will never purchase ground beef that is completely free from contamination — though sustainable is a better bet than conventional, and grass-fed, organic beef is best.

At any rate, we certainly won't judge you if you find yourself suddenly off Big Macs for a while, even if the fecal bacteria in them won't make you sick.

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