January 27, 2023

Treat Plant-Based Meat Like the Real Meat For Safety’s Sake

You should treat plant-based meat like the real thing for safety’s sake, according to the USDA. Many people think that “burgers” made with plants are automatically safer to eat, but that’s not the case. Plants can harbor pathogens and, in fact, have made many people sick over the years.

Treat Plant-Based Meat Like the Real Meat For Safety's Sake

In fact, according to a 2015 study conducted by Center for Science in the Public Interest, produce was the most common source of food poisoning. Produce can be contaminated by agricultural water used for irrigation, by animals and birds defecating in the fields, by contaminated harvesting equipment and storage bins, and through handling after harvest. Any raw agricultural product has the potential to be contaminated.

And plant-based meats are “ultra processed,” according to John Luchansky, lead scientist at the ARS Estern Regional Research Center’s Food Safety and Intervention Technologies Research, so they are not naturally superior to mea or less processed. There is a shortage of data on the safety of these products and microbial pathogens.

Luchansky added, “Little, if any, information is available on the time and temperature combinations required to prevent the outgrowth of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), Salmonella, and Listeria during shelf life, or how to reduce these pathogens during cooking.”

Because the plants used to make these alternative burgers can be contaminated with all pathogens, they should be handled just like you handle raw meat, even though to date there have been no recalls or illnesses linked to those products.

Wash your hands before and after you handle the uncooked plant-based burgers. Avoid cross-contamination between these burgers and other foods that are eaten raw. Wash cutting  boards and utensils that come into contact with these products. Cook them to 160°F and use a food thermometer to test the final temperature. And refrigerate them promptly – within 2 hours of cooking.

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