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Due to an increased number of E.coli scares, the American ground beef industry is stepping up efforts to wash the dirty bits off the dirty animals and to butcher them carefully especially around the guts, plus installing huge chambers to scald carcasses and wash them in acid, steam vacuums to suck away microbes and elaborate gear to test hundreds of meat samples a day. However, as the Pentagon would no doubt agree, this is one battle that may not be won without nuking the suckers.

Late last month, the Agriculture Department announced its 20th recall of beef this year because of contamination with a toxic strain of the bacterium E. coli. No one knows for sure what is causing the jump in recalls, though theories abound, from the cyclical nature of pathogens to changes in cattle-feeding practices caused by the popularity of ethanol.

This much is clear: Fifteen years after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants made people aware that hamburgers could kill them, the American beef industry is still searching for a practical method to prevent the toxic E. coli strain from contaminating ground beef.

“If you gave me a million, zillion dollars and said give me a plant that doesn’t have E. coli, I couldn’t do it,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Department officials acknowledge that short of irradiating the meat, there is no magic bullet to prevent E. coli contamination.

Article in the NY Times about American ground beef industry attempting to clean up its act.


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