Image courtesy of the Food Poison Blog
It looks like there may be some reason to the USDA's madness: see, it's just that the agency has deemed it A-OK for meat companies to cook and sell you meat on which E. coli - yup, that's the one - has been found during processing.
Affectionately termed the "E. coli loophole," this little glitch has allowed companies to sell millions of pounds of infected beef to blissfully ignorant consumers each year - provided they add a little "cook only" label. That may help account for why there have been so many incidences of contamination this year.Yes, the USDA will tell you to thoroughly cook the meat before eating it to destroy all those nasty bacteria but, as some inspectors have noted:
... the "cook only" practice means that higher-than-appropriate levels of E. coli are tolerated in packing plants, raising the chance that clean meat will become contaminated.
"All the product that is E. coli positive, they put a 'cooking only' tag on it," said one inspector, who like other federal inspectors interviewed asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs. "They [companies] will test, and everything that's positive, they slap that label on."
"The government keeps putting out that we've reduced E. coli by 50 percent and all of that," said an inspector. "And we haven't done nothing. We've just covered it up."
In other words, any company that finds unacceptably high levels of E. coli in its meat can just slap on the "cook only" label and shift it over to a different line - without saying a peep to the USDA. And we're feeding this stuff to our schoolchildren?