March 7, 2008

In light of last month’s extensive meat recall, some consumers have become more cautious about the safety of meat sold in restaurants, grocery stores and cafeterias. However, University of Kentucky Meat Science Extension Specialist Gregg Rentfrow said there’s no need for consumers to take added precautions when purchasing meat because all meat sold for consumption has been through rigorous inspections by U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors.

“Meats go through inspections from the time they show up at the plant all the way through the entire process,” he said. “From a safety stand point, meat produced in the United States is very, very safe. Our food supply is very, very safe.”

The recall of 143 million pounds of beef, manufactured by Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., over a two-year period, was considered a Class II recall. Rentfrow said these types of recalls are often issued as the result of people or businesses not following the rules and guidelines set by the USDA.

“Recalls that fall under Class II are not harmful to human health,” he said. “If you read the USDA reports they even acknowledge that there is a very small risk to humans in the recalled products.” He added that on the other hand, Class I recalls, which involve bacteria such as E.Coli, can pose a threat to human health if not properly prepared. These are the types of recalls that should raise consumers’ awareness.

Rentfrow said the recent recall caused concern among some consumers because of the lengthy time frame associated with the meat’s distribution. Of the 143 million pounds of beef in the recall, only 32 million was still in the public by the time the recall was issued.

“Nobody got sick or anything from eating it; so it was pretty harmless,” he said.

What happened at the California facility was atypical and consumers should treat this as an isolated incident, he said.

“Livestock producers and meat processors are very supportive of animal welfare and humane animal handling,” he said.

If some are still a little squeamish over the recall, Rentfrow said the safest thing people can do to ensure their meat is safe for consumption is to thoroughly prepare it. This has nothing to do with the doneness of the meat but involves the meat’s surface temperature. Meat should be cooked until its surface area reaches 160 degrees. Due to the increased surface area, ground beef needs to be cooked until it reaches 160 degrees in the center of the burger. This number is the temperature at which most harmful bacteria die. Rentfrow said this should be easily achievable for most people as the majority cooks meat at much higher temperatures anyway.

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