Contrary to recent news headlines, beef isn’t inherently dirty or chock full of bacteria. In fact, a bovine’s natural physiology is made to keep bacteria out. When raised in their natural environment, cattle are clean animals. And when pasture-raised meat is processed in a manner that focuses on quality, not quantity, the risk of E. coli contamination is dramatically reduced.
Be warned, this article is not for the faint of heart? We’re talking a lot about poop here folks. Yep, you read that correctly, poop.
We’ve seen it in the news for years Tainted Meat! Beef Recall at Major Grocery Store! Processing Plant Causes Local Recalls! As Chief Cow Officer, I want to take a moment to help you understand what causes these massive beef recalls and why we encourage you to always know where your food comes from.
Most meat products sold in grocery stores come from industrialized agriculture, meaning animals are usually raised in feedlots, knee deep in their own muck. Here, they are fed mostly grain, which is not what our cow’s stomachs are designed to handle. They were made to eat grass. When fed mostly grain, it changes the chemical environment their ruminate stomachs (yes, plural, as in four stomachs!), which welcomes e-Coli and facilitates its growth. And because of the “knee-deep in their own muck” situation on these huge commercial feedlots, the animals excrete contaminated manure that ends up on others’ hides due to the dense concentration of feedlot conditions. We know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, it’s gross, but it’s just on their hides, so we should be okay right?”
Unfortunately, no. Because of the basics behind commercialization and industrial processing, everything is bigger, faster, and stronger: accelerated growth, overly strong antibiotics and extremely rapid butchering. When animals are covered in manure and the speed of the processing line is fast, the probability of cross-contamination between with our meat supply increases. The good news is if only the surface area of a meat cut has E.coli contamination, the E.coli will be killed when the meat is cooked. But if meat used for ground beef has E.coli contamination, the E. coli is dispersed throughout the beef as the meat is ground. This creates an incubator for continued growth of the bacteria, and results in wide scale distribution of E.coli throughout the batch of ground beef. A “batch” of ground beef from the industrial system is large, sometimes as large as 50,000 pounds of beef. Hence, large ground beef batch sizes also increase the opportunity for inclusion of E.coli contaminated meat.
Here’s the good news: You have plenty o’ options outside the factory feedlot system. Once you look beyond the feedlot system, things gets a lot cleaner and healthier. To start with, animals raised on pasture-based farms do not share the same conditions as animals raised in feedlots. To put it bluntly, animals raised their entire life at pasture aren’t so crowded they are forced to poop on each other. (Yuck, I know, but thems the facts.) Secondly, pasture-raised cattle have a grass-based diet, which is what their four-chamber stomach was made to digest. Hence, pasture-raised animals don’t have disgruntled tummies, and the stomach pH environment is naturally less conducive to E. coli growth. (When we let nature do as she intended, we usually get healthier outcomes folks!) And lastly, cattle raised solely on pasture move around freely and across pasturelands. That means they are less likely to get their own excrement all over their hide.
Yet another aspect of the reduction of E. coli at a smaller, pasture-based farm is that a small, local processing plant is usually used. FYI, the little guys don’t even have access to the large corporate processing plants. Small processing plants are a slow paced, one-at-a-time system, rather than an assembly line system. At Farmer Girl Meats, we also flash freeze our meat immediately, at the time of processing. It is then kept at negativre 10 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit until it hits your doorstep. That means no opportunity for bacteria growth. Yay! Fresh frozen meat purchased from a source, like Farmer Girl, that is pasture-raised and processed in small quantities has far, far less opportunity for E. coli contamination.
In my entire life of farm-living, I have never once heard of such a thing. I didn’t even know about beef recalls and contaminated meat until I moved to the city for college! When raised in their natural environment, cattle are actually quite clean animals. And when our meat is processed in a manner that focuses on quality, not quantity, the risk of E. coli contamination is dramatically reduced. If you ever have any questions about how we raise our animals, how we feed them, how we process them, please feel free to reach out and ask! Email email@example.com anytime!
Happy and Healthy Eating,