The next time you order your steak medium rare, consider this: More than 90% of beef producers use a process called mechanical tenderization, which can push bacteria including E. coli deep inside the meat. Typically such bacteria only live on the surface of meat, which is why it's theoretically safe to eat it rare. But mechanical tenderization, which pokes meat with blades and needles in an effort to make it less tough, can lead to meat that Mother Jones so appetizingly calls "poop-contaminated." It has officially led to at least eight recalls and 100 illnesses in the past 10 years, but some suspect it has actually caused many more.
The Kansas City Star undertook a yearlong investigation into the process, and recounts stories of two people who contracted E. coli infections after eating medium-rare steak at Applebee's. Mechanically tenderized meat is frequently sold to grocery stores, family-style restaurants, hotels, and group homes. Grocery stores often don't know it's been tenderized, and the meat usually isn't labeled, so consumers may have no idea whether they're eating it. The Star finds more, and grosser, examples of the lack of regulation in the meat industry: Federal inspection reports for four of the biggest beef slaughter plants include hundreds of references to fecal contamination. See the Star for more.