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Beef's Raw Edges

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Margaret Lamkin doesn't visit her grandchildren much anymore. She never flies. She avoids wearing dresses. And she worries about infections and odors.

Three years ago, at age 87, Lamkin was forced to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of her life after a virulent meat-borne pathogen destroyed her colon and nearly killed her.

What made her so sick? A medium-rare steak she ate nine days earlier at an Applebee's restaurant.

Lamkin, like most consumers today, didn't know she had ordered a steak that had been run through a mechanical tenderizer. In a lawsuit, Lamkin said her steak came from National Steak Processors Inc., which claimed it got the contaminated meat from a U.S. plant run by Brazilian-based JBS - the biggest beef packer in the world.

"You trust people, trust that nothing is going to happen," Lamkin said, "but they (beef companies) are mass-producing this and shoveling it into us."

The Kansas City Star investigated what the industry calls "bladed" or "needled" beef, and found the process exposes Americans to a higher risk of E. coli poisoning than cuts of meat that have not been tenderized.

The process has been around for decades, but while exact figures are difficult to come by, a 2008 USDA survey showed that more than 90 percent of beef producers are using it on some cuts.

Mechanically tenderized meat - which usually isn't labeled - is increasingly found in grocery stores, and a vast amount is sold to family-style restaurants, hotels and group homes. In many cases, grocery stores don't even know the meat has been tenderized.

The American Meat Institute, an industry lobbying group, has defended the product as safe, but institute officials recently said they can't comment further until they see the results of a pending risk assessment by the meat safety division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 


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