Myth: Recent E. coli recalls of beef means beef is less safe today than it used to be.
News about recalls of beef because of E. coli may cause concern that beef is not as safe today as it once was. In reality, improvements by the beef community mean that beef is safer today and chance of foodborne illness related to beef has decreased.
The Facts: The safety of the U.S. beef supply continues to improve due to the commitment of the beef community and oversight from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The beef community has a long-standing commitment to providing the public with the safest beef possible – a pledge that is backed by research, best practices and public education.
Here are some answers to common questions about recalls of beef due to E. coli:
Are there large amounts of recalls of beef due to E. coli?
No – numerous safety steps take place all along the beef lifecycle to ensure your beef is safe. The goal of the beef community is to eliminate E. coli from the beef supply chain by placing multiple safeguards along the way, minimizing the possibility that it survives the journey. Ground beef today is tested for E. coli O157:H7 and six additional strains of E. coli.
In fact, the multiple safeguard approach has helped reduce E. coli-related illness to less than one case per 100,000 people, meeting the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Healthy People 2010 goal. The new CDC goals for 2020 call for continuous reduction and the beef community is committed to meeting this goal.
In the rare instance that a foodborne pathogen survives, a recall of beef products can help prevent potential illness.
The best way to prevent foodborne illnesses like E. coli at home is to implement food safety practices and to follow the proper guidelines on beef cooking temperatures. See below for tips on how to safely prepare beef at home.
Why do I feel like I hear more about E. coli recalls than I used to?
Over the years, the ability to test and detect foodborne pathogens in the food supply has improved. Additionally, improved communication of recalls and a 24-hour news cycle means people may hear about recalls more often, but it also means that the system to prevent illness is working. These improvements have helped decrease the chance of foodborne illness related to beef.
Check out these resources to learn more about beef safety today:
- Investment in safety: The safety of America’s beef is assured through the cooperative efforts of all partners in the beef lifecycle.
- Each year, the beef community collectively spends approximately $550 million on research and technology to protect beef from pathogens like E. coli.
- Creation of the Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo): BIFSCo allows representatives from all parts of the beef community to work together to discuss and address food safety challenges, share the latest research and set a course for future safety work. Research to better understand foodborne pathogens and identify new ways of controlling them is a priority for everyone in the beef community.
- A “Multiple Hurdle” Approach: The beef community uses a “multiple hurdle” approach to safety by integrating new safe guards and technologies into each step of the beef lifecycle in order to prevent illnesses and keep foodborne pathogens out of the supply chain. For more information on beef safety today, check out our Beef Safety Fact Sheet.
- Government oversight: USDA inspections in food processing plants helps ensure the nation’s supply of meat is safe before it gets to you.
Keeping Beef Safe at Home
Raising safe beef is a top priority for America’s cattle farmers and ranchers, but consumers also play an important role in food safety. What can you do at home to keep beef safe?
The four keys to proper beef preparation and prevention of E.coli and other foodborne illness include:
- Properly refrigerate beef until time of preparation
- Prepare beef on a clean work surface
- Follow guidelines on beef cooking temperatures and test the internal temperature of beef as it cooks
- Store and refrigerate leftovers in an air-tight container
Safe and savory ground beef requires a higher temperature than steaks and roasts, with 160oF being the optimal internal temperature.