July 19, 2019

Reason Number #356 to Avoid Rare Burgers: E. coli Outbreak

Many people love rare hamburgers, but unfortunately that love can be harmful. Ground beef is made of trimmings and whole beef cuts that are ground together. Bacteria present on the surface of the whole beef cuts is mixed throughout the product during this process. That means that there could, and most likely will be, pathogenic bacteria in every bite of an undercooked burger.

skylers hamburgerThe E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to recalled Wolverine Packing Company ground beef sickened 12 people in 4 states last year. Fifty-eight percent of those sickened were hospitalized. Investigations by public health officials found that ground beef produced by the Wolverine facility was the likely source of the outbreak strain of bacteria.

Hidden in the report, however, is that 73% of the 11 patients interviewed in this outbreak ate rare, medium rare, or “undercooked” hamburgers at a restaurant before becoming sick. Federal law stipulates that restaurants serving undercooked meat or seafood have to place a warning on their menus about the risk of these products. The wait staff also must tell customers about this risk when they order undercooked meats.

 

I have been at several restaurants over the past few months where one of our party ordered medium burgers. There was no warning on the menu, and the waiter did not tell the person ordering the burger about the risk inherent in this type of food. In a study conducted by the CDC in 2013, 77% of restaurant managers said they did not post a warning or consumer advisory about the risk of consuming undercooked meats.

Another study conducted by the CDC in 2012 found that millions of Americans do eat hamburgers that are cooked less than well done. And it’s true that most of them will not get sick. But one E. coli illness can affect you for the rest of your life. The complications of this foodborne illness include hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially deadly illness that can destroy the kidneys and cause strokes.

Other complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection include blindness, heart failure, liver damage, pancreatitis, transient diabetes, and severe anemia. Fred Pritzker, a prominent food safety attorney who has represented many clients sickened by this bacteria, said, “Eating risky foods such as rare hamburgers is akin to driving without a seatbelt. You may never be injured, but if you are, the consequences can be deadly.”

In this particular outbreak, most of those sickened were male. Patient ages ranged from 16 to 46 years, with a median age of 25 years. As a result of this outbreak, Wolverine Packing Company recalled 1.8 million pounds of ground beef that was shipped to retailers and restaurants nationwide.

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