Previous estimates by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) calculated that about 5 percent of the hamburger processed in the U.S. was contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7.
This particular bacteria causes about 62,000 cases of food poisoning in the United States each year. Infection with this bacterium is especially dangerous to the elderly, the young, and the immunocompromised. People in these categories can experience bloody diarrhea and kidney failure. A recent report by the FSIS using a much more sensitive test indicated that almost 90 percent of the hamburger lots tested were contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7. This is not good news. However, you must take some of this alarming news with some amount of cautious examination. Some of those lots of hamburger only contained 100 Escherichia coli O157:H7. Those lots consist of 3000 pounds of hamburger. If you were to eat a quarter pound burger and if the Escherichia coli O157:H7 were evenly distributed you would have to eat 120 uncooked quarter pound hamburgers to get one organism. The dose of Escherichia coli O157:H7 needed to cause illness is about 10 organisms. This means that you would have to eat 1200 uncooked quarter pound hamburgers to get sick.
I don’t want you to think that I am downplaying the importance of these findings. Not all hamburger is kept at the proper temperature to prevent growth of the bacteria. One hundred organisms could quickly become 1 million organisms. Nor are bacteria evenly distributed in the meat. Some poor unfortunate person may get the only undercooked hamburger from the lot with 10 Escherichia coli O157:H7 in it and get really ill. Many of the lots of the hamburger FSIS tested contained much higher numbers of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in the meat. The bad thing about these bacteria is that you can NOT tell if the meat is contaminated. It will look fine and smell fine. However, if you do not cook it properly and are at the right age for serious complications you could become very ill.
The take home message of this story is that most hamburger packages you get from the store are contaminated with disease causing bacteria. Many people love to eat hamburger. You should not stop eating hamburger but instead you should prepare it wisely and cook it until it is well done.
You don’t have to be an unknowing victim of contaminated hamburger. Most food poisonings do NOT occur in restaurants. It is just that those outbreaks of food poisoning are more likely to be reported to the public. Uncle Bill’s Saturday night hamburger feast with four of his friends