Minnesota woman paralyzed after eating Cargill burger

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Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com/Flickr
A NYT article published over the weekend, dubbed by Andrew Zimmern as "The Most Important Food Article in Years," features not only the tragic story of a 22-year-old Cold Spring woman stricken with and eventually paralyzed by a virulent strain of E. coli but also the manufacturer of the ground beef patty responsible for her illness, Minneapolis's very own Cargill.

Using squirm-inducing words like "mash-like product" (to describe what goes in to a typical mass-produced burger), and "gnarly" (to describe one ill-attended Cargill grinder), the article tells us some things many of us already know, like the fact that many mass-produced patties are composed of meat and "trimmings" from a number of different animals spanning the globe.

But it also delves quite deeply into details that haven't been as well publicized: namely, about industry-wide resistance -- even outright opposition -- to testing ground beef for pathogens and government complicity to this negligence.

For example, slaughterhouse giant Tyson, the article says, refuses to sell its meat to Costco anymore because the retailer has a policy of testing meat it gets from suppliers. (The takeaway: If you insist on buying frozen patties, get them from Costco, people. *UPDATE: Or maybe not. See comment below from "bob," who was told that the chain is indeed supplied by Tyson, at least with chicken.*)

The most stop-in-your-tracks quote of the article has to be that of Dr. Kenneth Peterson, an assistant administrator with the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service: He tells the paper, "I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health."

Risks to public health are apparenatly worth it to Cargill the article says. Using cheap meat from a number of sources and skimping on oversight is 25 percent cheaper than using meat from just one animal, after all. The company, which the paper says is the nation's largest private company, raked in $116.6 billion in revenues last year.


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