Burger Bugs

Udderly aMOOsing photo by Katie D
Udderly aMOOsing photo by Katie D

I was clicking around news stories and found this Huffington Post article called “How Much Bacteria is In Your Burger?” Here’s what they report: “…every sample of ground beef collected by researchers from supermarkets around the country contained enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli, which indicate fecal contamination. In other words, all the beef had poop on it.” Are your skepticism bells ringing? David Coil broke down quite humorously in this previous article that just because there are enteric bacteria somewhere, it doesn’t mean there is fecal matter. And Holly Ganz posted about a paper on bacteria in a sausage making plant, where we find out that the meat shared similar microbes to those living on the surfaces in the plant. Yes, there will be some bacteria in the meat, and no, it’s probably not covered in poop.

I don’t intend to disregard the food poisoning risks that this article is suggesting. In fact, we should be worried about meat that is contaminated with a dangerous strain of E. coli or salmonella. Why? You guessed it — antibiotic resistance. The overuse of antibiotics on large cattle farms is directly related to the prevalence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria found in the meat. An untreatable infection is where food poisoning goes from uncomfortable to fatal. While the article emphasizes that conventional beef is more likely to be contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria compared to sustainably raised meat, the simplest solution to avoiding food poisoning is to just make sure meat is well cooked. And on that note, enjoy your Labor Day BBQs!

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Katherine Dahlhausen

Katie Dahlhausen is a PhD student in Jonathan Eisen’s lab and is interested in the biogeography and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance. Find out more at her Twitter feed .