July 21, 2018

Michigan E coli Outbreak: Undercooked Ground Beef is Risky

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: don’t eat undercooked burgers. Every year in this country, E. coli infections cause about 265,000 illnesses and about 100 deaths. And the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Michigan that is associated with undercooked ground beef served in restaurants, most likely as rare burgers, is a case in point.

HamburgerRare hamburgers are a risk factor for E. coli O157:H7, which can be the worst type of food poisoning you can get. Ryan Osterholm, a food safety attorney who has recovered millions of dollars for injured clients, said, “Ground beef is far and away the largest culprit for carrying E. coli. An intact piece of meat carries bacteria only on the surface. Ground beef contains bacteria throughout. That is why hamburger must not be eaten rare or medium rare.”

The E. coli O157:H7 bacteria can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious and life-threatening  complication of the disease that destroys the kidneys and can cause strokes, seizures, coma, cortical blindness, pancreatitis, brain inflammation, and heart disease. E. coli O157:H7 bacteria produce shiga toxins, which travel through the body, entering cells and ending protein production. The cells die, and can destroy the kidneys, intestinal lining, and the cells that make up the blood-brain barrier.

We can’t know the actual number of people sickened throughout the U.S. by E. coli O157:H7 through rare and raw ground beef, since most cases happen individually. Some are not reported to health departments. The number public health officials are most sure of occur in outbreaks, where two or more unrelated people get sick from the same strain of bacteria. And even then, the multiplier for E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks is 2, which means that half of illnesses are not reported to the government.

The five cases in Michigan may be part of a larger outbreak; the Michigan Department of Community Health, the USDA, and the CDC are all investigating. In the meantime, you can protect your family by always cooking ground meats to an internal temperature of at least 160°F, as measured by a meat thermometer. Serving rare ground beef is like driving without a seatbelt. You may not need that protection, but when a car accident happens or the beef is contaminated, you will be seriously injured.

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