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Why is Unsafe Meat Legal?

Most of the U.S. population suffers an acute diarrheal illness every year. According to a recent survey, most people correctly identified food as the most common source of infection, but fewer than half (45%) believed it legal for grocery stores to sell meat with food-poisoning bacteria on it. You can’t sell unsafe cars; you can’t sell unsafe toys; how could they possibly sell unsafe meat?

They do it by blaming the consumer. I quote one USDA poultry microbiologist in my 2-min. video Unsafe at Any Feed: “I think the consumer has the most responsibility but refuses to accept it,” he said. “Raw meats are not idiot-proof. They can be mishandled and when they are, it’s like handling a hand grenade. If you pull the pin, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

So it’s our fault if we get sick. That’s like a car company knowingly selling cars with faulty brakes and then blaming tragedies on parents for not putting their kids in rear-facing car seats. For more on the risks of handling fresh meat, see my 3-min. video Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination.

Patricia Griffin, director of Epidemiological Research at the Centers for Disease Control responded famously to this kind of blame-the-victim attitude. “Is it reasonable,” she asked, ‘“that if a consumer under cooks a hamburger…their three-year-old dies?”

Some may question the wisdom of selling hand grenades in the supermarket in the first place. In Sweden, for example, it’s illegal to sell chicken contaminated with Salmonella, the leading cause of food poisoning deaths in the United States. It’s illegal to sell a product that could kill or cripple our children—what a concept! In my 4 min. video Fecal Bacteria Survey I feature an article in a meat industry trade publication that quotes an Alabama poultry science professor saying banning infected poultry is a “hard-handed” policy. He said: “The fact is that it’s too expensive not to sell salmonella-positive chicken….”

Can you imagine a toy manufacturer saying, “Sorry, we’d love to pull unsafe toys off the market but such a large percentage of our toys are hazardous that it would cost us too much”?

For other surveys on how much of the American meat supply is contaminated with fecal matter and foodborne pathogens see Fecal Contamination of SushiFecal Residues on ChickenChicken Out of UTIsU.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph, and MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat. Salmonella-infected eggs also sicken more than 100,000 Americans every year (see Total Recall).

For questionable steps the meat industry is taking to mediate the threat see my videos profiled in my Care2 column last week, Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray.

In today’s video pick, featured above, the fish and chicken industries propose moving from a zero tolerance policy on certain dangerous foodborne pathogens to an “acceptable risk” policy given how widely contaminated their products are with potentially deadly fecal bacteria.

Maybe it’s time to declare independence from an industry that does not appear to be placing the safety of our food and family first.

Have a happy, wholesome holiday,
Michael Greger, M.D.

Image Credit: Mat_the_W / Flickr

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


+ add your own
8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

If a food handler be it in a restaurant or at the store doesn't wash his/her hands after going to the bathroom you risk getting fecal bacteria in even a spinach salad or a milkshake.

Take proper sanitary precautions when cooking food and you should be safe, but even that is not 100 percent as is everything in life. If you go outside you might get hit by a truck but most people will still go out and take their chances. If you dine at a fine restaurant and staff don't wash hands properly you can get very sick.

If your doctor does not properly wash hands before surgery/visiting at your bedside there are all sorts of bacteria you can pick up along with Super Bugs that can kill you in the hospital.

Bacteria is as old as the planet. Do what you can to stay safe but the bacteria can get you in your non-meat salad or anywhere else.

I've eaten meat all my life and I am not dead yet, just prefer organic, non-factory farm, the same goes for pesticide laden veggies that are not organic and no GMO veggies. Don't panic, breathe and take precautions when you can.

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

If you are worried, then buy organic meat. If you don't eat meat, no problem as you don't buy it. Organic veggies and meat takes away the toxins. If you worry about slaughterhouses, then buy organic at the farm where it is slaughtered instead of being sent out elsewhere.

9:58AM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

it is all about money who has it and who dont and who cant get any if they are dead because of some companies greed.

7:42AM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

Well Gary, are you of the opinion then that "Do nothing cause nothing will help" how sad to live your life that way.

We are certified organic grass fed beef family farm, and no I beg to differ it is not a marketing ploy.

10:50PM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

This world is build on money, we will always stumble to eat healthy unless we sustain ourselves or live around people who do and buy food from them.

2:13AM PDT on Jul 9, 2012

Ha, Danuta says "vegan" and Gary A. says "Organic is a marketing ploy. Even in vegetables. For, if you grow in your own backyard, they may still be contaminated by the soil. We cannot escape the pollution"...........fact, anything consumed CAN give us issues if it's been exposed to a pathogen, and that includes vegetables, fruits, even water. All we can do is obtain our food from the cleanest, best sources possible and prepare it properly. It's NOT just "commercial" meat or even commercial anything. I KNOW the vegetables grown in my own garden have not had any chemicals sprayed on them, are grown in organic compost and aged manure, but how do I know some animal hasn't gone in there during the night and "pee'd" on it..............I don't, so I wash everything as thoroughly "as possible", but not about to scrub the lettuce with bleach and a brush, either.

9:01AM PDT on Jul 8, 2012

Why do consumers continue to buy products from such an industry? This is just the risk to an individual's health, as bad as that may be. But what about the CAFO's that produce most of the meat eaten in our country. They are making rivers, w entire watershed's etc. just as sick on a huge scale. There's really nothing good about the commercial meat industry, so why support it?

1:04AM PDT on Jul 7, 2012

Great post--thanks.

6:58PM PDT on Jul 6, 2012

That's a good question.

6:24PM PDT on Jul 6, 2012


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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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