March 8, 2002
Study finds harmful E. coli in area beef
Back away from that burger - unless
you've taken its temperature. Locally purchased ground beef
shows occurrences of a toxic form of E. coli, says
Susanne Lindgren, a medical microbiologist and biological
sciences professor at California State University, Sacramento.
As part of a recent study, Lindgren and graduate student Julie
Oliver tested 200 samples of ground beef from a variety of
Sacramento-area outlets - from high-end grocery chains to
warehouse stores. They found an 11 percent positive rate of
the enterohemorrhagic, or EHEC, strain of E. coli,
which can cause serious illness.
"Across the board, regardless of fat content or the store
where the meat was purchased, EHEC was there," Lindgren
says, "even though the USDA has a zero tolerance for
The good news, Lindgren says, is that consumers can protect
themselves from potential illness by following safe food preparation
procedures, including thoroughly cooking ground beef. "We
need to educate consumers to handle food well. I think its
unrealistic to expect food to be EHEC-free," she says.
"Not all bacteria are bad. E. coli is the number
one aerobic bacteria in our intestines and there are more
good E. coli in the world than bad," Lindgren
points out. Meat can contain as much as 100,000 bacteria per
gram before it is cooked. "Look, it's there. It may not
be EHEC but until you know what it is, it's a good idea to
follow the guidelines."
Lindgren's and Oliver's analysis of the ground beef involved
looking for the gene of an EHEC toxin in each sample. "With
this method, you can get really low levels of detection,"
The next phase of the project will be to try to reduce the
viability of the pathogen. "We want to see what conditions
it can survive in," Lindgren says. "We know heat
kills it. And the level drops if you stick it in the freezer
but it's still infectious."
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