E coli 0157:117 It’s what’s for Dinner?
Research at the USDA’s ARS Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, has found that the incidence of the deadly E coli 0157:117 was significantly higher in cattle whose corn-based feed included 40% wet distillers grains (WDG). WDG is a byproduct of ethanol manufacturing that is often fed to feed-lot Beef and dairy animals throughout the United States but primarily in the upper Midwest. Some cattle producers had originally thought that the absence of starch in WGD would make it safer to use than corn with ruminants like cattle. Apparently this is not the case.
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E coli 0157:117 is a relatively new acid-resistant strain of E coli that is only found in grain-fed ruminant animals such as cattle. Acid resistance prevents human stomach acid from killing the bacteria and in return is killing us! The E coli is transferred from the cattle manure in an unclean butchering facility to the meat by contact and on to us, the consumers! This new form of acid resistant E coli is obviously much more deadly than the more commonly heard of and know strain. The E coli in Grass-fed Cattle live in a neutral pH rumen environment and do not develop the acid resistance environment that the 0157:117 has evolved to thrive in.
The first report described outbreaks of E coli 0157:117 as gastroenteritis that were associated with the consumption of undercooked ground beef from a chain of fast food restaurants. Since this report, several studies have shown that infection with E. Coli 0157:147 is responsible for most cases of Hemolytic-Uremic Syndrome, which is a major cause of renal failure in children. Efforts to eradicate E. coli 0157:H7 have been complicated by the fact that it is an extraordinarily hearty microbe that is easy to transmit. E. coli 0157:117 is resistant to acid, salt, and chlorine. It can live in fresh water or seawater. It can live on kitchen countertops for days and in moist environments for weeks. It can withstand freezing. It can survive heat up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. To be infected by most food borne pathogens, such as Salmonella, you have to consume a fairly large dose - at least a million organisms. An infection with E. coli 0157:117 can be caused by as few as five organisms. A tiny uncooked particle of hamburger meat can contain enough of the pathogen to kill you.
The CDC estimates that more than three-quarters of the food-related illnesses and deaths in the United States are caused by infectious agents that have not yet been identified. While medical researchers have gained important insights into the links between modern food processing and the spread of dangerous diseases, the nation's leading agribusiness firms have resolutely opposed any further regulation of their food safety practices. Some herds of American cattle may have been infected with E. coli 0157:117 decades ago. But the recent changes in how cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed have created an ideal means for the pathogen to spread. The problem begins in today's vast feedlots. A government health official, who prefers not to be named, compared the sanitary conditions in a modern feedlot to those in a crowded European city during the Middle Ages, when people dumped their chamber pots out the window, raw sewage ran in the streets, and epidemics raged.
For years the large meatpacking companies have managed to avoid the sort of liability routinely imposed on the manufacturers of most consumer products. The pathogens from infected cattle are spread not only in feedlots, but also at slaughterhouses and hamburger grinders. The slaughterhouse tasks most likely to contaminate meat are the removal of an animal's hide and the removal of its digestive system. The hides are now pulled off by machine; if a hide has been inadequately cleaned, chunks of dirt and manure may fall from it onto the meat. Stomachs and intestines are still pulled out of cattle by hand; if the job is not performed carefully, the contents of the digestive system may spill everywhere. The increased speed of today's production lines makes the task much more difficult. A single worker at a "gut table" may eviscerate sixty cattle an hour. Performing the job properly takes a fair amount of skill. A former IBP "gutter" told me that it took him six months to learn how to pull out the stomach and tie off the intestines without spillage. At best, he could gut two hundred consecutive cattle without spilling anything. Inexperienced gutters spill manure far more often.
Today the U.S. government can demand the nationwide recall of defective softball bats, sneakers, stuffed animals, and foam-rubber toy cows. But it cannot order a meatpacking company to remove contaminated, potentially lethal ground beef from fast food kitchens and supermarket shelves. The unusual power of the large meatpacking firms has been sustained by their close ties and sizable donations to Republican members of Congress. It has also been made possible by a widespread lack of awareness about how many Americans suffer from food poisoning every year and how these illnesses actually spread.
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