Barbecuing. It’s a summer staple. But before bringing friends and family over for an afternoon of grilling, there’s something you should know. That meat you’re about to serve may contain more than just animal parts.
Here’s what could be lurking in your meat, and how to keep yourself and your guests safe.
Raw meat and poultry contain a host of bacteria including salmonella, listeria, and E.coli that can make you sick. Now, thanks to the overuse of antibiotics fed to animals (ironically meant to protect the meat supply), new pathogens have emerged that are antibiotic resistant.
An FDA report released in 2013 found that nearly 45 percent of salmonella and about half of Campylobacter found on chicken samples were drug-resistant.
Like other bacteria, drug resistant ones found in some meats die when heated. But, unlike other types of bacteria found in meat, people who are sickened by improperly cooked meat contaminated by the resistant bacteria may not respond to antibiotic treatment, Dr. Glenn Morris, professor and chair of the department of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School said in an interview with PBS’s Frontline. It’s unclear how big of a problem meat contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria is since there are no estimates of those infected.
Until the contaminated meat is properly cooked, it can pose a health hazard in kitchens. Experts suggest cleaning knives, countertops, cutting boards, and sinks directly after use. Also, avoid running raw meat and poultry under water to “wash” them before cooking, as that doesn’t really clean the meat. It only leads to bacteria splashing to various surfaces.
That’s right, the poison.
Arsenic used to be contained in most drugs used in chicken, turkey, and pig feeds. About 70 percent of poultry in the US were fed arsenic-based drugs, Bloomberg reports. Historically, arsenic in feed has been used as a way to promote growth and weight gain, as well as a method of disease prevention.
In September 2013, following a review of the drugs and lawsuit threats by food safety groups, the FDA rescinded its approval of three of the four drugs that contain the chemical. According to the FDA, the form of arsenic used is safe when given to the animals, but could potentially convert into a form that, when consumed in large amounts, could be considered a carcinogen.
One drug called Histostat, or nitarsone, still remains. The drug is mostly fed to turkeys to treat certain fatal diseases, like blackhead, which is otherwise incurable. Nitarsone, however, is not off-limits for use in other animals.
The FDA currently doesn’t have plans to withdraw its approval of the drug.
“With respect to the only remaining approved arsenic-based animal drug, FDA denied the petitioner’s request because the agency is in the process of completing several scientific studies and reviewing and evaluating information to help the agency more fully evaluate any potential concerns related to the safety of arsenic-based animal drugs,” the FDA said in a public statement.
Feed additives containing arsenic are no longer generally used in poultry. Even with certain USDA meat labeling requirements, there really is no way of knowing what the meats you’re consuming have been fed.
The term made headlines two years ago when media reports informed consumers their ground beef found in grocery stores include a cheap filler that was nicknamed “pink slime.”
Pink slime, a term coined by the USDA, is actually fat trimmings from the outermost part of the cow that’s used as a cheap filler. Seems benign—since it is beef, after all—but the ingredient may be linked to excrements that might contain pathogens like E.coli since it is so close to the cow’s hide, NPR reported.
The term not only sounded gross to consumers, but reports of its potential health hazard led many grocery stores to pull meats containing the ingredients from store shelves. As a result, some manufacturers shut down a few processing plants and laid off their workers.
Now, thanks to rising beef prices, it seems like pink slime is making a comeback. The cost of ground beef has doubled to nearly $4 a pound since 2010, which has prompted more companies to buy ground beef with cheaper ingredients added, NPR reports. Still, many grocery stores are refusing to restock it.
So, how do you know if the hamburger meat you’re buying is filled with pink slime? Ask the employees in the meat department at your local store. Or, go to a local butcher instead where the meat may cost more, but will be ground right at the shop.
Signs of Spoilage
Use meat before the expiration date listed on the sticker and you’re in the all clear, right? Maybe not.
First, there’s the “sell by” date, the “use by” date, the “packaged on” date and the “expiration date,” and consumers need to know what each means. But when it comes to the expiration date, the date listed on the sticker only holds true if the meat is stored properly. According to the CDC, meat should be stored in refrigerators that are kept at 40 degrees or a little less to prevent spoilage. In general, meat and poultry have a 1 to 5 day refrigerated shelf life after purchased. Freezing meat gives it about a 50 percent longer shelf life, but the freezer should be kept at 0 degrees.
Toss the meat if it looks brown or green, or feels slimy, sticky, or dry. Even if cooked thoroughly, spoiled meat can lead to food poisoning... and some very unhappy guests.Lara can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Lara on Twitter: @BostonLara