The realities of E. coli

Safe & Juicy Burgers

Fresh apple juice and cider, crisp green salad, a plump, juicy burger - are these taste pleasures in jeopardy? Since a deadly strain of bacteria E. coli - Escherichia coli 0157:H7 - has been found in these foods, such treats carry potential danger.

Human and animal waste contains E. coli, and the bacteria can spread to food that comes into contact with the waste - including fallen apples that touch animal droppings, or salad greens exposed to contaminated water.

Meat presents an even greater risk because manure on the animal's hide or hair may spread bacteria to the carcass during processing. Any E. coli on the surface of meat is easily killed by cooking. But if contaminated raw meat is ground, bacteria is mixed throughout.

WHAT KEEPS FOODS SAFE?

At home, store foods at 40° or below to restrict bacterial growth. Between 40° and 160°, bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels in just a few hours.

Wash raw produce, such as salad greens and alfalfa sprouts, in chlorinated water (1 teaspoon chlorine bleach to 1 quart water), drain, and, if chlorine odor is noticeable, rinse well.

Pasteurization kills bacteria in apple juice and cider, but it changes their flavor. If you want fresh taste with some degree of safety, buy from a manufacturer that bans the use of fallen apples (grounders) and cleans all fruit with an antimicrobial agent before pressing it.

Irradiating meat, recently approved by the FDA, destroys bacteria. Until this process is used, however, ground meat must be thoroughly cooked to be absolutely safe. The USDA recommends cooking it to the fail-safe temperature of 160°. George K. York, extension food technologist at the University of California at Davis, points out that the bacteria begin to die at 140° and if you hold food at this temperature for four minutes, all are killed. He advises checking with an accurate instant-read thermometer.

Unfortunately, ground meat patties get hard and dry when cooked to an internal temperature of 160°. But if you add crumbs to the raw meat, it will stay moist when safely cooked.

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