A nausea-inducing feature in the New York Times tells you more than you wanted to know about what's actually in commercially produced hamburger, and why it's especially vulnerable, despite FDA regulation and several fatal outbreaks in recent years, to E. coli contamination. The Times follows the case of a 22-year-old dance instructor paralyzed after an infection, finding that a single hamburger could contain beef products from several slaughterhouses on several continents.
Failure to inspect the separate ingredients before they are combined is only the worst of the lapses in the safety system. “Ground beef is not a completely safe product,” says a food safety expert, who notes a backslide in outbreaks after substantial improvements had been made in testing. The USDA, meanwhile, is implementing stricter testing and increasing training for inspectors. "We are not standing still when it comes to E. coli," says one official. (Read more E. coli stories.)