It's no secret that you shouldn't just dig into a lump of raw burger meat with a fork, fresh from its bed of cling wrap and styrofoam. Similar to our approach to "sushi-grade" fish—which, by the way, is an unregulated term—we've decided that it's in our best interests to cook our mass of ground-up beef rather than treat it like a tartare. And there's very good reason for that, as a recent Consumer Reports study reveals.
Some of us like our burgers juicy and bloody, while others opt for the more grayish char of a patty well-done. And although there can also be downsides to eating burgers that are cooked to a state of brown toughness (carcinogens and cognitive decline, for example), it may be a little wiser than we'd previously thought.
Here's an irrefutable fact that we don't particularly like to think about: a great deal of meat, and animal products in general, are contaminated with fecal matter. Pork, beef, chicken, you name it. Sure, we simplify it by referring to the specific bacteria that can make us ill—E. coli—but that's where that bacteria comes from.
And it's everywhere.
Consumer Reports purchased and tested 300 samples of ground beef—totaling about 458 pounds—from more than 100 different stores in 26 American cities. And here's the icky bit: all of the beef samples had E. coli or other bacteria associated with … well … shit, such as enterococcus.
Even more frightening: almost a fifth of the ground beef samples was contaminated with "superbugs": bacteria that is resistant to three or more types of antibiotics. One notable, and possibly hope-giving, finding of the study: "sustainably produced" and grass-fed beef had significantly lower incidences of this type of bacteria.
So where's all this poop coming from? Well, to be a bit obvious, from the digestive system of the cows slaughtered for our meat supply. Animals have guts, and those guts are moved around during processing. And when you're making burgers, there can be—and typically is—meat from many different animals in a single patty. One particularly bacteria-laced cow can make its way into many, many burgers.
Then there's also the questionable diet that many conventionally farmed cows eat, which can include anything from candy and plastic pellets to chicken manure and meat by-products, as well as the steady doses of antibiotics often administered to cattle to promote growth and prevent infections when many animals are in close quarters.
So what should you do?
Consumer Reports recommends buying your meat from sustainable farms, and certainly cooking it all the way through to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. That's a little bit past medium-rare in most cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 28 percent of Americans regularly eat raw or undercooked ground beef. Now consider that some 57 percent of Americans eat at least one burger per week, and you're talking about a lot of potential E. coli cases.
There's enough other shit to deal with in life. You should at least minimize the amount in your double cheeseburger.