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The story of burger

(article, Culinate staff)

On the surface, that classic American sandwich the hamburger seems so simple: a patty of ground beef and a bun, maybe with embellishments such as ketchup or pickles.

But as a recent New York Times story reveals (and an accompanying graphic and other documents reinforce), most of us don't know half the story:

bq.Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.

Reporter Michael Moss investigated the severe illness of a Minnesota woman, Stephanie Smith, who contracted an E. coli infection from eating tainted hamburger — and now, two years later, is unable to walk (and may never walk again). 

This story raises all sorts of issues for eaters — about food safety, industrialization of food, and government oversight of food, not to mention the plight of an innocent burger-eater.

[/user/cafemama "Sarah Gilbert,"] writing about Moss's piece on AOL's Daily Finance blog, finds something else in the story as well: shifted blame. And she's not settling for it: 

bq. In my opinion and that of a vast number of consumers who've read this article, it's obvious that \[E. coli\] sickness is not the result of bad home cooks who can't handle their meat; it's the necessary and evil result of a factory-meat system that is ill-regulated and designed in a way that breeds disease.

E. coli in beef isn't old news; in June, we wrote about a [/articles/sift/June2009beef_recall "giant recall of E. coli-tainted beef."] What may be new is the increased attention given to the flawed system that produces much of the country's burger — and the flawed regulation of  other foods as well.