The New York Times looks into why E coli bacteria in a Cargill hamburger put a Minnesota woman into a coma for nine weeks and then crippled her.
The short answer:
- “Grinders” like Cargill source what goes into your hamburgers (fat, trimmings, meat) from multiple slaughterhouses and processors.
- Cargill does not test the trimmings it gets from the slaughterhouses for E coli because if it found E coli, the slaughterhouses would get in trouble. The slaughterhouses know this, so they quietly refuse to sell meat to Cargill and other grinders if those grinders test. Tyson, for example, refuses to sell to Costco because Costco tests.
- Instead, Cargill only tests for E coli after all its hamburgers are ground–thus protecting suppliers.
- Cargill’s not very good at testing, apparently.
Which is why this happened to Stephanie Smith after she ate a Cargill burger:
Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus. The aches and cramping were tolerable that first day, and she finished her classes.
Then her diarrhoea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralysed.
E coli aside, if you want a referesher course on how your meat is processed in this new age of gigantic meat companies and perfectly safe foods, Michael Moss has all the details >
(By the way, there would seem to be a simple regulatory fix to this one. Require grinders to test suppliers’ meat for E coli. This will eliminate the test-us-and-we-won’t-sell-to-you game.)
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